Lehigh Alliance Hopes to Enhance River's Fishery
Hazelton Standard Speaker
By Alan Gregory

The past century or so has not been kind to trout streams in our neck of the Pennsylvania woods.

First up: Mining companies who saw only profits, not the long-term effects of their labors, trashed creek after creek, run after run.
Next up: The current spasm of "development." Other long-term threats:
· The death of hemlock trees that shade streams, keeping their waters cold enough for trout.
· Acid precipitation. Most area streams have little buffering capacity to deal with acidic rain.
Wild brook trout in the Little Nescopeck Creek survive only above the stream's confluence with the deadly discharge of the Jeddo Tunnel.
A few miles downstream, the Nescopeck is killed when it joins the Little.

Tributaries to both, meanwhile, flow with the rainbow sheen of parking-lot runoff whenever it rains. Cranberry Creek, Hazle Creek, Black Creek and others also are dead, their waters tainted by the caustic water flowing off mine waste piles or gurgling to the ground from long-abandoned mine shafts. Barring a massive infusion of big bucks, these streams - and the brookies they once sustained - are likely gone forever.

Dean Druckenmiller, though, sees hope for another waterway - the Lehigh River. The river, a trib of the Delaware River, is already popular with whitewater rafters and kayakers. But Druckenmiller is leading a lobbying effort he hopes will turn the Lehigh's wild trout fishery into a world-class resource. Druckenmiller is president of a new group, the Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance. He delivered his message to Hazleton-area anglers attending the Trout Unlimited/Western Pocono Chapter meeting Tuesday night.

Here's what the alliance wants to accomplish. "Our mission is to obtain a consistent release of cold water [55 degrees] from the F.E. Walter Dam through better utilization of FEW's storage capacity and discharge options, in an effort to improve overall flows, protect habitat and enhance the Lehigh River's wild trout fishery."

That's the organization's mission statement. In simple terms, the alliance wants to change the way the nearly 45-year-old earthen-fill dam is operated, ensuring that its tailwater - the water downstream of the dam near White Haven - remains cold enough to sustain wild trout year-round.

To accomplish that, the alliance and its partners, like Trout Unlimited, want to get enough federal dollars allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District to perform the "necessary studies and modeling to determine the maximum lake elevation that will not jeopardize the primary purpose of FEW, which is flood control."

Druckenmiller said the study would:
· Focus on how to sustain a release of 55-degree water from the dam;
· Determine how to sustain a release of water that's no warmer than 65 degrees during whitewater release weekends;
· Investigate optimum minimum releases and the required volume of coldwater pool to sustain releases during summer months necessary for trout survival; and
· Figure out what improvements may be needed to the dam and its discharge features.

Druckenmiller's eyes gleamed with love for the river as he clicked through a slide show. This is the river at Glen Onoko, he said. Here's the river at Lehighton, he said as another scene appeared on the screen. Then he talked about fish, showing picture after picture of 15-inch brown trout, fat rainbows and wily brookies, their flanks gleaming with the field marks of wild fish.

The alliance is taking its slide show on the road this fall because it needs public support, the kind that would convince legislators, like Congressman Paul Kanjorski, to push to get enough dollars for the study - $300,000 or so - to the Corps of Engineers.

The dam-operating agency already made changes to the way it runs FEW. But the new management plan, implemented last spring, didn't do all that much for the river's wild trout fishery. The alliance wants that to change. And it has enlisted some heavy-hitters to push its cause, renowned fisheries biologist Robert Bachman and outdoor writer Charlie Meck among them.

Druckenmiller said the alliance also wants local business and government leaders to know just how much of a positive economic impact communities would realize from a fully-restored wild trout fishery in the Lehigh.

You can learn more about how to help the Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance by clicking on its Web site: http://www.thelehighriver.com