Opening The Spigot

Many people along the Allegheny River are unhappy with the high water levels, but officials at Kinzua Dam have little to do with that.

Doug Helman, resource manager at the dam, said, “General operations of the dam are decided by the (U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers) Water Management Group in Pittsburgh, and water levels are constrained by a mandate from Congress.”

He said flood control is the driving force behind holding and releasing water from the Allegheny Reservoir, but other factors come into play, such as recreation, pollution abatement when river levels are low and habitat or environmental aspects such as protecting rare and endangered species.

The current downstream temperature of 60 degrees is cooler than in weeks past, because of the need to discharge from both top and bottom slide gates, he explained. The top gates are not large enough to release the needed amounts of water.

“We always aim to keep the reservoir pool at summer levels (during the season), to be prepared for the next weather event,” he said, explaining that the average rainfall in May and June is 4.7 inches and 4.89 inches, respectively.

This year, the rainfall total for the same months was 21.5 inches, more than double what was expected.

“We can’t control the weather,” he added.

A comment on the Kinzua Dam Facebook page said the reservoir was only at seven percent capacity, and Helman confirmed that number.

“When we get up to ten percent, we start losing facilities like campgrounds, boat launches and the Onoville Marina. They’re under water,” he said.

He said as long as the Allegheny River is within its banks, they discharge what is needed to to balance other concerns.

“The plan is to run the current flow until Thursday morning, and we’re hoping to be at a usable flow below 6,000 cubic feet per second by the Fourth (of July),” he added. “But that depends on the weather.”