Proposed changes at Sayers Lake prompt questions and opposition

HOWARD — Proposed changes at Foster Joseph Sayers Dam and Reservoir are eliciting questions and opposition from residents, property owners and visitors here.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission have scheduled a public workshop on what they’re calling “Project Modifications for the Improvement of the Environment” at the dam.

Essentially, the agencies want to do a feasibility study “to explore potential alternatives for managing the existing fall draw-down … for the benefit of both in-lake and downstream aquatic life and resources.”

A fact sheet put out by the Army Corps states this: “The study will determine if operation of the reservoir, including water release protocol, can be modified to improve the quality of the environment both in the reservoir itself and in the downstream ecosystem. Currently, the reservoir is drawn down 20 feet in late fall and winter and returned to normal pool level by late spring. The in-lake ecosystem may benefit from a more constant year round pool and some potential environmental modifications. Consistent with the 2012 report entitled Susquehanna River Basin Ecosystem Flow Study prepared in a cooperative effort by SRBC and the Corps of Engineers, low flow augmentation from the reservoir during critical low flow periods could benefit the downstream ecosystem.”

Local residents interpret that as the lake having a lower water level in the fall and through winter, and they’re emphatic on social media that they don’t want that.

They fear that lower water levels will impact recreation at the lake, including boating and swimming.

They also fear lower water levels will increase dust and insect levels, cause odor from the mud, decrease tourism, impact the beauty of the area and cause real estate values to drop.

Social media is full of criticisms of the proposal, including this: “Combined, the losses above may cause people to move out of Howard. Loss of residents and families could mean a further reduction of kids attending the Howard Elementary School. If the attendance drops more, it is highly likely the elementary school would eventually close. We only barely dodged the bullet when the closure was recently considered.”

The meeting is set for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 30, in the Howard Elementary School, 255 School St.

The agencies are asking people to pre-register if they want to attend by sending an email to Hilary Hollier at hhollier@srbc.net. More information is available by calling John Balay at 717-238-0423, or sending him an email at jbalay@srbc.net.

Sayers Lake is a 1,730-acre impoundment at Bald Eagle State Park, just 30 minutes southwest of Lock Haven.

The primary function of the reservoir is to help with flood control.

The dam and lake levels are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The lake is drawn down during the fall and winter months to provide additional storage for the high water events in the spring.

Sayers Lake is very popular with anglers and boaters, and is heavily used for picnics, camping and fundraisers.

It draws thousands of people to Greater Howard each year.

The agencies anticipate the feasibility study will take 18 to 24 months to complete.

“If a change is deemed feasible as a result of the study, then the recommended plan will be considered for implementation and carried forward based on available funding,” the SRBC states.

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