WHITE HAVEN, Pa. -– Tensions are high along the Lehigh River over water.
The Army Corps of Engineers is doing a study to see if New York City can use some water from the Francis E. Walter dam to supplement the city’s drinking water supply during an extreme drought.
Hundreds of people turned out to a public meeting on Thursday night at Mountain Laurel Resort near White Haven to learn more.
Nearly 1,000 people showed up at the meeting. Some were worried about the outcome of the re-evaluation study for the dam could have on the $37 million dollar recreation industry in this region.
“New York state and New Jersey have not been good neighbors when it comes to energy production and economic growth in Pennsylvania, and they certainly seem to want to have their interest in our water supply, and we need to hold their feet to the fire on that,” Rep. Doyle Heffley (R) Carbon County said to the crowd.
The Army Corps of Engineers began this study in September in partnership with the Delaware River Basin Commission and New York City. Officials said the study is taking into consideration the dam’s primary mission of flood risk management and recreation.
However, some people in the crowd were skeptical of that.
“I just want everybody to watch this study closely because I don't trust New York when they say everything will be okay, nothing will change, but we want your water anyway,” Stephanie Cibello of Bear Creek Township said.
The dam in Bear Creek Township is owned by the federal government.
The dam provides water to the Lehigh River. Nearby Carbon County is heavily reliant on that water for its tourism industry.
“What I don't want to see, and I'm afraid of seeing is this industry wind up being a casualty of a continued approach towards this problem,” Brandon Fogal of Pocono Whitewater Rafting said.
“Even though we don't know what the outcome of the study is going to be, we're very concerned for the well-being of the watershed, the fishery, and the economic benefits that the Lehigh River provides,” Stephen Chuckra of Lehigh River Stocking Association said.
New York City gets some of its drinking water from the Delaware River. NYC officials would like to use some of the water from the Francis E Walter Dam to supplement the Delaware when water levels are low.
“We know sea levels are rising. There may be an opportunity here to more efficiently protect the lower Delaware from saltwater intrusion during a severe drought,” Paul Rush of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said.
The Army Corps of Engineers said it will take about three years to finish the study.
Next fall, officials are expected to present a tentative plan to the public.