Corps reacts to melt with higher discharges from dam

A 60-degree day in the middle of winter may be a welcome relief, but it also has some side-effects.

In response to rising water levels at Kinzua Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made the decision to release water at a higher than usual rate. That means higher, faster water for people enjoying the river downstream from the day.

A combination of snow melt and rain over the past week added nine feet to the water level in the dam.

The reservoir is fed by the Allegheny River and Kinzua Creek. The origin of the Allegheny is in Potter County. Kinzua Creek’s headwaters are in McKean County.

Some areas of the watersheds of those two waterways had more than a foot of snow last week. “They’ve lost that in the last few days,” Park Ranger Steve Lauser said.

Prior to the thaw, about 2,700 cubic feet of water was being allowed through the dam each second, Lauser said. “Our office in Pittsburgh had directed us to do some gate changes over the past couple of days into tomorrow.”

The outflow will be increased to just over 12,000 cubic feet per second on Wednesday. The increase was made gradually with several steps from 2,700 to 12,000 over the last few days, according to Lauser.

The water is flowing through four of the six gates in the dam. The winter water level is well below the upper gates, Lauser said.

The water elevation, not to be confused with depth, went from 1,303 last week – within the acceptable winter range of 1,300 to 1,305 – to about 1,312.

Even at the higher summer pool levels, the corps maintains a buffer. “Between our summer elevation and our maximum elevation we have about a 35-foot area to store water,” Lauser said.

There is still plenty of space for water storage, but corps officials maintain a lower winter depth to allow for dramatic changes due to snow melt events like the one of the past week.

“We want to have a range to store water,” Lauser said. “The next time, if we have a significant snow pack later in the winter, it may rise at an even greater rate.”

An increase of nine feet to the depth of the reservoir means more than 4 billion cubic feet – or 30 billion gallons – of water was added to the body which has an area of about 12,000 acres at its summer pool level.

Because the discharge will be “a little bit more than four times what it was last week,” Lauser said corps officials announced the changes through media outlets. “We like to let people know.”

“Boaters and anglers are advised to exercise caution…” according to the release. “Gate openings will be spaced over several hours so as not to cause sudden rises in river levels.”

With the reasonable temperatures and lack of ice, there have been fishermen boating on the river downstream. “Fishermen are going to have that high water to deal with,” he said. “We put that information out in the interest of public safety.”