July 27, 2007

Dry Spell Helps Drain Pymatuning Water Levels

By Tim Hahn, Erie Times-News, Pa.

Jul. 27--JAMESTOWN, Pa. -- Pymatuning State Park is enjoying the kind of summer that vacationers dream of.

Seemingly endless days of warm, sunny weather have attracted larger-than-average crowds to a park that draws more than 3 million visitors annually, park officials said.

But the park could soon pay for its stretch of good fortune.

"The lack of rain and all the sun is great if you're attending the campgrounds or going to the beach. But now we're suffering with lower lake levels," state park Manager Pete Houghton said.

The Pymatuning Reservoir's water level is about 16 inches below normal. It's a significant decline for a shallow lake with shallow shorelines, and it could cost park users mooring space and launching ramps if it continues to drop, Houghton said.

A few pontoon boats stored in the park's 1,500 moorings are already resting on the bottom, he said.

"There are boats that should be removed now. If it goes any lower, they'll be impossible to get out without a wrecker," he said.

Pymatuning's problems have been brought on by a prolonged dry spell that started in May, spread through June and has continued through July.

The National Weather Service's official precipitation measuring station for the region, located at Erie International Airport, collected 5.31 inches of rain between May 1 and Wednesday. That's about 3.5 inches below normal for the region, according to weather service data.

The lack of precipitation has affected waterways throughout Crawford County. French Creek, which winds through the center of the county from northeast of Cambridge Springs to south of Cochranton, was 1.4 feet deep in Meadville at noon Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The measurement was a foot above the creek's record low, which was measured on June 28, 1991, according to weather service data.

French Creek's banks have significantly narrowed the creek in spots, including in the Saegertown area, where they have been extended to include piles of flat stones, bleached white by the sun, that normally would be submerged.

French Creek remains navigable for boaters, however, and the low water level hasn't hurt the fishing much, said Matt Visosky, a waterways conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

"When the water warms up, they will be a little fussier," he said.

B.J. Fleischer, of Hayfield Township, agreed with some of Visosky's assessment as he waded out knee-deep into the middle of French Creek, just south of Saegertown, for a little fishing Thursday morning.

Fleischer said that although he hasn't seen as many canoes on the creek this summer compared with previous years, he isn't having trouble landing fish in the waterway.

"You just go where the water is deeper and hang out there," he said.

Conneaut Lake's water level is down slightly, but not to the point where it is causing problems, Visosky said. It could affect some access ramps, particularly the Fish and Boat Commission's ramp off Route 618 on the west side of the lake, if the level continues to drop, he said.

Canadohta Lake users also aren't experiencing problems from the dry spell, although the lake level started to drop a few weeks ago because of the lack of rain and a dam that is in need of some repair, said Dave Cherry, president of the Canadohta Lake Business Association.

On the flip side, he said, the dry weather has kept local businesses profitable.

"It has brought people in here," Cherry said. "We probably gained from the weather what we lost due to high gas prices."

While Crawford County waterway overseers wait for much-needed rain to fall, they're using the dry time to educate swimmers, boaters and anglers about the dangers that low-water levels pose.

"We're telling them to watch the shoreline and watch the weed beds, which usually tell you where it's shallow," said Norman Renwick of the Jamestown Boat Livery on Pymatuning Reservoir. "We're just trying to educate them more, to slow down in certain areas of the lake."


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