Lehigh River Dam Releases Explained

After many floods ravaged the area, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Francis E. Walter Dam in White Haven, in the north of Carbon County.  Finished in 1961 as a flood control dam, the valley surrounding the river was allowed to prosper without fear of destruction every few years.   Proper management of the river by the dam has given new life to the region.  “Downstream recreation” is a project purpose of this dam. 

The dam releases water 24/7/365 – so there is always water in the river.  Aquatic life depends on it.  Since 2005, the first year of the new water release program, we’ve seen the improvements in water quality.  The fishing is great, for humans as well as Ospreys, Herons, and even Bald Eagles!  You know a river is healthy when these fine birds show up.

Early each spring the Army Corps starts storing water – this year, 70 vertical feet will be stored behind the dam.    This is a huge amount of water.  This temporary storage allows the Army Corps to “augment” the natural flow every minute of every day from mid-May through Labor Day Weekend.  On weekends, the release is timed so that rafters, kayakers, and canoeists can enjoy the thrill of real whitewater.  For 2010, 12 weekends are scheduled to be “Dam Release” weekends –so get ready for the thrills and beauty of running whitewater in the summertime!

One might think that there isn’t any paddling available on the “non-release weekends” – but this isn’t true!  There is ALWAYS enough water in the river to enjoy a summer float trip, with easy rapids and lots of relaxing fun.  

So remember, the FE Walter Dam releases water every minute of every day, 7 days a week.  They release EXTRA water on the “Dam Release” weekends, giving whitewater enthusiast enough water to run the rapids of the Lehigh Gorge, but the river is always a good place to paddle.