At the request of Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon), the House Majority Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), today convened a public hearing to discuss issues related to the ongoing reevaluation study of the Francis E. Walter Dam and Reservoir by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The proceedings were conducted virtually.
The Army Corps began the study in 2019 to examine whether potential improvements to the dam or its operation could allow water in the reservoir to be used for other purposes to support the Delaware River Basin’s ecological health.
Heffley and other stakeholders have voiced concern over the impact any possible changes at the dam and resulting water levels in the Lehigh River would have on tourism and outdoor recreation in the Pocono region.
“This is a very important issue to all of the folks in northeast Pennsylvania. Any decision about altering the capacity at the Francis E. Walter Dam, or how that water is delegated, could have devastating effects both downstream and upstream, especially for our local tourism industry,” said Heffley. “We just want to be sure as these studies go forward, the voices of those who represent this area are going to be heard and that our concerns are given equal consideration.”
Several officials who testified stressed the study is not expected to adversely affect local drinking water supplies or the regional economy. New York City’s interest in the dam is centered around ocean level increases near the Delaware River that have allowed salt water to push farther north, especially during extreme droughts.
“This study has nothing to do with supplying drinking water to New York City,” said Dan Hughes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager. “We also take recreation very seriously, which has to be fully evaluated with all the impacts associated with it, both the good and bad. We have to weigh all of those things for our recommendations going forward.”
“In fact, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) supported a precondition of the Army Corps study that said any changes to reservoir operations cannot affect the downstream releases that support the tourism and outdoor recreation economies in Pennsylvania,” added Jennifer Garigliano, NYC DEP Bureau of Water Supply chief of staff.
Despite those reassurances, local business owners, economic development organizations and elected officials told committee members they remain troubled by the potential harm any changes in river water levels would have on the Pocono region’s $4 billion tourism industry.
“The key to our success is the current flow management plan at Francis E. Walter Dam. Take away those [summer water] releases, and you would gut over 75% of our revenue and guests,” explained Sky Fogal, Pocono Whitewater vice president.
“Reserving 15% of the water at Francis E. Walter Dam for a New York City drought is not the answer for the residents of Pennsylvania,” said Wayne Nothstein, Carbon County commissioner chairman. “It is a financial, economic and environmental disaster for the residents of Carbon County and many other counties.”
“Sacrificing Pennsylvania’s control over Pennsylvania water will jeopardize economic development opportunities in the Commonwealth for generations to come,” added Kathy Henderson, Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corporation director of economic development.
Hughes told committee members that public input will continue to be part of the reevaluation process and that a stakeholder working group has been created with a meeting to be held later this spring. He added that study updates are posted on the Army Corps website, www.nap.usace.army.mil
“This hearing has given us a greater understanding of the Lehigh River’s critical role as an anchor of the Pocono region’s tourism industry,” said Causer. “It also provided a clearer picture of the study’s focus and its possible impacts. We intend to keep monitoring the review process to ensure that it is conducted in the best interests of Pennsylvania and its residents.”
To view or download a broadcast-quality video of the hearing, click here.
The hearing video is also available at www.pagoppolicy.com
, along with written testimony.
Representative Doyle Heffley
122nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Andy Briggs