Safety Concerns Prompt Complete Drawdown of Speedwell Forge Lake

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is alerting anglers, boaters and the general public that it has begun to completely draw down Lancaster County’s Speedwell Forge Lake in order to alleviate pressure on the lake’s dam and spillway, which was heavily damaged by recent storm events.

“We inspected the facility on Oct. 17-18 and found that the spillway had lifted or ‘heaved’ as a result of increased pressure, subsequently creating numerous cracks in the concrete spillway,” said Dan Leonard, director of the PFBC Bureau of Engineering. “The spillway’s structural integrity has been compromised and we believe future storm events will further degrade its integrity. Therefore, we are proceeding with the immediate and complete drawdown of the impoundment until further testing and analyses can be performed.”

The lake is being drained at a rate of about one foot per day. Depending on the weather, it may take over a month to fully drain it.

In anticipation of the complete drawdown, the PFBC has temporarily lifted all seasons, sizes and creel limits on the lake and is encouraging anglers to harvest as many fish as they can.

“With the warm October that we’ve had so far, lakes are warmer than usual and fish are very active, which should make fishing very good now and as the lake is drawn down,” said Dave Miko, chief of the PFBC Division of Fisheries Management. “Anglers can expect to catch largemouth bass, crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, and carp.”

PFBC biologists will conduct fish salvages within the next several weeks and will move the fish to nearby waters. Biologists have not yet identified those waters. Although fish salvages generally save a large number of fish, a significant amount will also perish, added Miko.

“We will collect as many fish as we can through netting and electro-fishing, but it is impossible to capture all of them,” he said. “Fish die during any drawdown and salvage effort. Many hide around structures where we simply can’t reach them, and others become buried in the mud when they are slow to exit the lake with the remaining water. Anglers and the general public should expect to see this.”

In particular, a large number of the gizzard shad population is expected to perish. The species – a silver gray forage fish which ranges from 4 inches to 12 inches in length – experiences natural die-offs each spring at the lake. They also have a limited tolerance to handling.

The lake will remain open to public use until the water level reaches a point where it may be unsafe for anglers. At that point the lake will be closed and signs will be posting alerting anglers of the closing.

Located in Elizabeth Township, Speedwell Forge Lake is a 106-acre impoundment owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and managed by the PFBC for public fishing and boating. The Commonwealth acquired the property in 1963, and the dam was constructed in 1966. The Commission’s Southeast Region office is located at the lake.

The lake is one of 16 high-hazard and un-safe dams managed by the PFBC on behalf of the Commonwealth. The PFBC estimates that it will cost $6.43 million to reconstruct the dam’s concrete spillway and reinforce the embankment. However, the project is currently unfunded.

The PFBC is currently rebuilding four high-hazard and un-safe dams, including Leaser Lake in Lehigh County, Opossum Lake in Cumberland County, and the Dutch Fork and Canonsburg lakes in Washington County.

More information about high-hazard dams and the funding needed to rebuild them is available on the PFBC Web site.

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