Francis E. Walter Dam Re-evaluation Study: Keeping You Informed

A Message from President Christopher Kocher:

Recently, there’s been lot of interest and concern about our Lehigh River and the Francis E. Walter Dam and reservoir. At this time, I’m pausing to ensure that you, our community of friends, supporters and citizens of our shared Lehigh River watershed, are informed.

Be assured that Wildlands Conservancy, your local land trust and environmental leader is both aware and involved. The information that follows shares project background information, Wildlands’ historic work on this topic, details about the current study, and Wildlands’ involvement going forward. 

Wildlands’ Historical Role

In 2005, Wildlands , along with the Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance and many partners, worked to gather public input and to improve communication and collaboration between the river user groups, the Army Corps, and our state agencies – the PA Fish & Boat Commission and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Common objectives were identified, and a flow management plan was developed to address the wishes of the multiple stakeholders,  improving water quality and quantity, and providing enhanced recreation opportunities. Every year since 2005, the Francis E. Walter Dam Flow Management Working Group develops an annual flow management plan and schedule and provides it to the public.

We will continue to work, as we have over the past 46 years to, restore, enhance and preserve our region’s wonderful natural resources, including the Lehigh River.

– Christopher Kocher, President of Wildlands

The Value of Water Releases

Generally speaking, water is allocated to ensure whitewater releases from early May to late September, and environmental releases from early July to early September. Releases later in the summer and early fall are dependent on precipitation levels and the amount of water accumulated in the reservoir. While the exact release schedule is slightly modified annually, the overall shift to more releases has had tremendous benefits to the ecology of the river. This is because water is colder and more abundant. This shift has also greatly expanded and improved whitewater paddling and rafting opportunities. Both of these improvement have yielded very positive economic returns for the local community.

Wildlands is Aware & Involved

This project is in its initial-most stage. A steering committee has been formed and Wildlands, along with user groups and state agencies, is a member of the committee. An initial public meeting is scheduled for January 9, 2020 and public comments are being solicited via email to gather input that will help develop the study’s scope of work. A draft report is scheduled for January 2021, and the final report is planned to be completed by September 2022.

Continuing Our Work

Locally, there are concerns that New York City may seek to gain control of the Francis E. Walter Reservoir to discharge water from the Lehigh Basin to meet their downstream flow objectives.  They would then have additional water available in their reservoirs to meet their water supply needs.  This may require modifying the current Francis. E. Walter flow management plan, which could impact the quality and recreational value of the Lehigh River.

Wildlands’ objective is to ensure that the re-evaluation study fully investigates the ecological, recreational and economic impacts this could have for our Lehigh River and the entirety our watershed.

– Christopher Kocher, President of Wildlands

In addition to serving on the the steering committee, Wildlands will attend the public meetings specific to the study.  Be assure that Wildlands is committed to continuing our work to preserve, protect, restore and enhance our shared and beloved Lehigh River.

For More Information About the Re-evaluation Study

Visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website to learn more about re-evaluation study.