The left spill gate on the Lake Wallenpaupack dam was raised Saturday, May 19 at noon in an effort to reduce the risk of flooding in the face of a particularly wet spring.
PALMYRA TWP. (Pike) – The left spill gate on the Lake Wallenpaupack dam was raised Saturday, May 19 at noon in an effort to reduce the risk of flooding in the face of a particularly wet spring.
A torrent of water cascaded down the almost rocky creek bed, reviving the historic Paupack Falls in a rare display, to the delight of onlookers. Lake water emptied downstream in the Lackawaxen River at Hawley, creating a churning eddy. Beautiful and dramatic as it is, the purpose was not, however, to temporarily enhance the scenery for the benefit of the curious.
Julie Pelletier, a spokesperson for Brookfield Renewable Energy, said that the action was being taken out of precaution, with public safety in mind. Lake managers noted both the heavy rain that was forecast on Saturday, and the lake level which was already high.
The level of the lake early Saturday morning was at 1187.7 feet. At this level, the 52 miles of shoreline- as well as the sandy part of Palmyra Township Public Beach – is submerged.
With the controlled spill continuing and both turbines making electricity around the clock as water was let down the flowline, on Sunday mid-afternoon, the lake has dropped to 11.87.5, and by Monday, 1187.0.
Brookfield was discharging water to the Lackawaxen on Friday down the flow line (without help from the lowering the gate) at an average 432 cubic feet per second (cfs). By Sunday the average rate was 2,035 cfs, from both generating electricity and the spill; by Monday it had lowered to 1,200 cfs.
Like PPL before them, and Talen Energy which briefly operated the hydroelectric facility after PPL, Brookfield must follow a monthly schedule of targets for the level of the lake. This is dictated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing agreement reached with PPL in 2004. Brookfield purchased the facility in 2015.
Targeted levels are set for the first of each month, and the May 1st target is 1185.6 feet. The target for June 1st is 1,187.0 feet, the highest target for the year.
Watershed District’s concerns
Meanwhile, the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District (LWWMD), has concerns about the high lake levels and the manner in which Brookfield manages the lake, as compared to PPL. These were voiced at their May 16 meeting, only two days before Brookfield announced the decision for a water release.
District Administrator Nick Spinelli was asked by The News Eagle for comment about the water release.
"We hope to work with Brookfield moving forward to find a solution that avoids emergency releases and protects the shoreline and water quality of this important resource,” Spinelli said. “This release is one of several negative consequences of maintaining excessively high lake levels. While the release is the most obvious and spectacular, particularly to those living downstream, our biggest concern is the severe shoreline erosion that occurs during water levels above 1186 and the long-term negative impact on water quality.”
He added, “The Watershed District has been protecting this lake for more than 35 years and our representatives have a tremendous amount of knowledge that we're very willing to share with Brookfield."
Concerns voiced by the board centered around the impact on shoreline erosion and the potential risk should one of these rain storms stall and create dangerous conditions.
The LWWMD is a nonprofit organization of stakeholders tasked with promoting sound practices to improve the water quality of the lake and its tributaries, to monitor the lake’s ecology and serve as a channel of funds for projects to prevent or correct conditions degrading the water quality. The power utility has a liaison serving on the district board.
District Administrator Nick Spinelli passed around pictures he snapped on May 14th from a boat, showing how the shoreline was totally submerged around Shuman Point on the Wayne County side.
“There was a lot of water into the trees up above where the typical high water mark ends,” he said. “The lake level on Monday [May14] when I took these photos was 1187.6 [feet].”
Brookfield is aware
Heather Hopkins, an employee of Brookfield in the Lake Wallenpaupack office who also was here before PPL sold the lake, said that Brookfield is aware of the issues and is addressing them.
“They’re running, running, running,” she said, referring to the hydroelectric generating plant.
“I can’t answer for the Resource Managers,” she said. “I know they have gotten a lot of rain and they had some unit trouble down at the plant - some mechanical issues.”
Hopkins represents the power company on the LWWMD board.
“They are working diligently to get the lake level down as quickly as they can,” Hopkins said.
Andy Davis, Brookfield spokesperson, told The News Eagle that the water levels are so high because of the amount of precipitation and the fact that the agreement they work under, suspends power generation on weekends during the spring, to benefit the fishermen in the Lacakawaxen River downstream from the plant.
Restricted generation, however, was lifted for May 18, 19, and 20, so that Brookfield can keep the turbines operating to help lower the lake, he noted. The decision to raise the dam roller gate was made late Friday afternoon, May 18.
Davis noted that Brookfield Renewable continues to actively participate in local stakeholder meetings as well as considering all feedback received from interested parties.
“We have always been operating in compliance with our license and continue to respect targeted lake levels,” Davis said. “We continue to encourage members of the community to check our website for real time conditions and expected generation schedules. In the near term, people may have noticed that this weekend’s generation restriction was cancelled to allow for generation and outflows out of the lake.”
Tom Mueller, who owns 1st Klas Marina and is on the district board, said that they worked for years with Brad Piatt, who was serving as PPL’s manager of peaking power, to manage the levels so it would not reach this height at this time of year.
The current target dates were established as part of the re-licensing that PPL went through with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which was completed in 2004.
Board member Eric Ehrhardt, who is also a Palmyra Township supervisor, said that PPL learned to not keep the level at the first-of-the-month target more than a day or two, and then draw the lake down. This lesson came, he said, after a major flooding event across the area which required an emergency release from the Lake Wallenpaupack dam.
On April 2, 2005, PPL raised the dam’s roller gates to mitigate a flood threat. There was significant concern and discussion at that time over the procedure, which quickly released water with so much force, that the railroad trestle at Hawley was undermined, and other damage occurred.
The duration of how long it is kept so high make a difference, Spinelli added.
Wave action from the high waters beat they shoreline. Spinelli noted from his pictures that there was six feet high of fresh erosion. “You can see the tree roots still have fresh soil on them,” he said.
Will send a letter
The district board approved sending a letter expressing their concerns to Brookfield Renewable, and to send a copy to FERC.
Ehrhardt also advised that the conservation districts should also get involved. “This is creating more erosion and damage to the lake than all the other construction projects combined,” he said.
Jim Martin, district board member and a Paupack Township supervisor, advised forwarding points of concern to the townships and county commissioners and encourage them to send letters as well.
James Shook, district board member, reminded that the LWWMD mission includes projects to stop erosion affecting the lake, but this recent erosion is undoing what has been accomplished along the shoreline. On top of it, new eroded areas are being created.
Michele Long, LWWMD chairperson as well as director of the Pike County Conservation District, said that the LWWMD lacks jurisdiction to direct what is done but they can explain to Brookfield what is going on. “It is very clear to me that they are not listening to the concerns we have,” she said. “I think as a good partner, Brookfield should be looking more seriously at this issue and heeding the concerns that we have at the LWWMD.”
Brookfield to attend
Although the power generating company could not send personnel to the May meeting, Hopkins said they planned to send two or three representatives at the June district meeting.
“They are communicating and they are realizing the seriousness of it, and they are not by any means undermining your concerns at all,” Hopkins said.
“Within the confines of the license, the target levels are for the first of each month. This target levels have a latitude of plus or minus six inches either way,” Spinelli said. “You could conceivably go from the May 1st target level and the very next day go all the way up to June’s target level, and have it there. PPL … used to slowly build it up, hit June 1st, 1187, and then bring it back down.”
He continued, “Brookfield, at least in its current capacity, has been keeping it higher for longer.”
Water released in 2011
The last time dam roller gate was raised was in June 2011, when PPL responded to high water levels exacerbated by two tropical storms. The lake at that time had risen to only two feet from the top of the dam.
Pennsylvania Power & Light Inc. (PP&L) created Lake Wallenpaupack in 1924-1926. The concrete dam is 1270 feet long and 70 feet high.
Pelletier stated that Brookfield had personnel monitoring the release, and it was not known how long the roller gate would be kept open.
Brookfield spokesman Andy Davis reminded the public to be careful when recreating in the water as conditions can change unexpectedly. “As always, we ask the public to reach out with any questions they may have,” he stated.
With a concern for public safety, the public is also reminded to stay away from the dam and the raging creek bed and falls.
Water levels on Lake Wallenpaupack can be checked daily online.