Francis E. Walter dam study could impact local businesses

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(WBRE/WYOU) — Concern continues to grow over the controversial study surrounding the Francis E. Walter Dam. The recreational community greatly benefits over how the water is used.

“This is what we love to hear, you bet. We dream of that sound,” Kenneth Powley said.

Powley is the vice president of the Lehigh River Outfitters Association. Along with others, he represents four whitewater rafting businesses up and down the Lehigh River.

“It’s a $37 million-a-year recreational economy. Based on those recreational releases, there are over 1,000 jobs just in the rafting industry,” Powley said.

The release happens at the Francis E. Walter Dam in Luzerne County by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Through a re-evaluation study, the corps, by 2022 will determine if decreasing the amount of water released from the dam is necessary for future drought conditions downstream for places like Trenton, New Jersey. Powley says if that happens, the dam will become a storage tank with no water being “let go” to support rafting businesses, fishing or the health of the water.

“For every gallon water that is locked up in permanent storage is a gallon of water that can’t be released for recreation,” Powley said.

Rafting professionals believe if the water dries up, the industry in this part of the area will be nothing. Between April and mid-October, 100,000 thrill-seekers visit Carbon County for its whitewater rafting.

“Recreation has become such a huge part of this region. The effect would really be dramatic,” Powley said.

The rafting industry in Carbon County could see a ripple effect in the next two to three years. The dam is drained every year around Columbus Day for the winter and fills back up from melting snow and rain.

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