Water levels at Lake Aldred could be up to 4 feet below safe recreational boating depths next week, with power company officials planning a drawdown to allow for maintenance on a section of whitewater near the downstream Holtwood Dam.
Already, levels in the manmade lake have been low due to a hot, dry summer that reduced flow from the Susquehanna River, which feeds the Lake Aldred reservoir above the hydroelectric dam.
That’s according to a warning sent to boaters from Holtwood Dam’s owners at Brookfield Renewable, an energy company.
The drawdown, which is planned for Monday through Thursday, is set up to allow for safety projects at the dam, which spans the river between Lancaster and York counties, said Brian Noonan, a Brookfield spokesman.
“A drawdown is the lowering of water levels. This is done periodically to ensure safety while we are conducting work,” he said.
Next week, that work will include maintenance designed to ensure that a section of whitewater below the Holtwood Dam “remains in good condition and ready for use this fall,” Noonan said, explaining the section is used by kayakers.
If weather conditions are poor, the safety-oriented work will have to be rescheduled, he said.
The dam — constructed in 1910 — produces electricity used to power regional homes and businesses, Noonan said.
In the past, the dam has posed a safety risk to boaters, leading to at least a couple of fatalities, Noonan said, adding those deaths occurred prior to Brookfield’s ownership. He pointed to one in 2007.
In late April of that year, a 16-year-old girl was killed after she leapt from a 16-foot motorboat that was about to be swept over the dam. The girl, wearing a life vest, also was swept over the dam’s 60-foot drop. Her body was recovered more than a week later.
That’s all according to a list of fatalities published by the state Fish and Boat Commission.
Since then, a barrier has been installed to keep boats from the dam to prevent similar accidents, Noonan said.
“This was a proactive, preventative measure we took,” he said.
But this year, that boat barrier has become packed with debris due to low water levels in both the Susquehanna River and Lake Aldred, Noonan said.
David Martin, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said dry conditions beginning in June and lasting through most of August have meant unusually long periods of low flow in the Susquehanna and other waterways.
Martin said it looks like the region surrounding Lancaster has seen rainfall totals below normal this year, though it’s not currently experiencing drought conditions like other parts of the state.
According to Noonan, local water flow has been about three times lower than on average. And that’s what’s led to the buildup of debris, mostly brush and tree limbs, he said.
“Some of this will be sucked under the boat barriers and more will be flushed over when flows increase,” he said. “While we expected some debris due to the boat barriers, this year has seen more than predicted due to exceptionally low flows.”