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Sportsman's Connection /
Outdoor Talk Network
Some Very Valuable Information…
Three and a half years ago I became embroiled in the effort to save my local waterway, the Lehigh River. Initially, I was out of my league and in over my head. I knew nothing about anti-pollution laws, Clean Water Acts, point and non-point pollution, pH waves, alkalinity, acid mine drainage, discharge permits, macro-invertebrate sampling, cubic foot per second discharge rates, environmental protection laws and the like. I knew something was wrong with this river so I picked up the phone. I called the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) in Philadelphia, the “stewards of our environment.” They are the government agency controlling the fate of this historic waterway. It seemed like the logical place to start.
I’m telling you this story of woe because I am certain there is an Army Corps facility in your area. The last list I saw revealed there are about 30 Army Corps dams operating in PA. Our great state is littered with these dams. If you have one in your area and can’t understand the logic of its operation, don’t bother calling DEP or
DCNR. You need to speak to the Chief of Hydraulic Engineering at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or Huntington, WV. You might be best off asking for the Commanding Officer, if he or she will get on the phone. Don’t be surprised if the answers you receive are illogical and don’t equate to common sense.
All ACE dams were built for specific purposes. Each dam has an “original intended purpose.” It could be flood control, recreation, low flow augmentation or water quality preservation. The dam is maintained for one or more of these purposes. It is to what extent becomes the major point of contention. For example, the Corps says your lake is a flood control facility. Ask for the numbers. In the case of FE Walter on the Lehigh, the conservation lake or standing pool is 1800 acre/feet. An acre/foot is an acre of water, one foot deep. The reservoir’s capacity is 107,000 acre/feet. This means FE Walter was kept 98.6% empty. How much rain would it take to fill FE Walter? Try one inch per hour for 30 hours! Quickly, you will find yourself in a risk versus benefit conversation. Will it really ever rain an inch per hour for 30 hours? If you think so, I would imagine you are building an ark. You need to take it this far to determine if you have storage capacity at your lake that will never be utilized. An inch of rain per hour for 12 hours is considered the once in a 100-year event. Unused storage should be transformed into a larger lake. This will allow greater flows in the downstream river. Both will result in better recreation, cleaner water and a healthier environment.
You must analyze the Corps numbers and push for their reasoning. If they will not give it to you, send them a “FOIA.” Under federal law you can send any government agency a “Freedom of Information Act” request. They must answer you in twenty days. They must reveal their files, minutes of meetings, dam safety checks, etc.
I don’t know how many ACE flood control reservoirs operate in this nation, but it is a bunch. Through the 60’s and 70’s disputes and lawsuits with the Corps were rampant. It was always the same. The Corps builds a dam and creates a hole in the ground that will never be filled by Mother Nature. They block migrating fish and blow the rainwater out in the spring. In the heat of the summer, when the river below needs water, they don’t have it to give.
In 1976 the US Congress passed the “Wildlife and Fisheries Coordination Act.” This little gem of a law requires the ACE to come to the table and discuss their operating procedures with state agencies and concerned environmental groups. You do have rights against the Corps. If they don’t agree with your opinions invoke the “Water Resources Act of 1988.” This little beauty requires the Corps to “provide for recreation including boating, fishing and specifically whitewater rafting.”
If you still feel the Corps is not managing the resource in the optimum manner, reach for your big gun, the “Environmental Protection Act of 1990.” It is the hangman’s noose for the Corps and it will tie them up in knots. It clearly states, the “Secretary (of the Army) shall include environmental protection as one of the primary missions of the Corps of Engineers in planning, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining water resources projects.” Bingo! The Corps must consider insect and baitfish displacement, shore nesting birds, spawning game fish, bank erosion, acid mine drainage and every other environmental issue every time they open their gates. In essence, the Corps built the dam and interrupted the natural flow of the River, so now they are responsible for its well being. Makes perfectly good sense to me.
The EPA of 1990 should be the basis for almost every dispute you have with the Corps. Managing a resource is not about rafting or fishing or whether you need a jet boat or prop boat to negotiate the channel. It is the fish and critters that matter most. It is about the quality of our water and the health of the ecosystem. If it is not, and if what matters most to us is the fulfillment of our own personal needs and selfish gains, there is a major problem. We, in effect, would be no different than our beloved Corps.
“Government employees have good intentions. Unfortunately, they often accomplish exactly the opposite of what they originally intended to achieve.”
Author, Jim Slinsky
Sportsman's Connection / Outdoor
P.O. Box 219
Northampton, PA 18067
Tel. 610-262-2143 / Fax 610-262-4440