In spring 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined it would no longer proceed with this effort. The Corps study team felt it was not in the federal interest to continue to spend additional federal funding on further evaluation. Therefore, current operations are maintained.
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission made a formal request to the Corps for the study at Sayers in 2012. The study kicked off in April 2016. Evaluation of alternate operation of Corps reservoirs is within the Commission’s Comprehensive Plan, and similar studies have been completed at other Corps reservoirs, including implementable projects at Cowanesque, Curwensville and Whitney Point. The Commission requested a study at Sayers because of its similarity to Whitney Point in sizeable storage and annual fall/winter drawdown.
The intent through the Corps study was to investigate the potential to sustain aquatic habitat during historical low-flow conditions during the months of July – November through the development of alternatives (options) that modify amounts and timing of water releases when triggered. Aquatic species may benefit from operations that supply more water during these extreme low flows since dams can affect natural flow patterns to downstream rivers.
In particular, the study was to:
- Evaluate alternatives (timing and amount of water releases) to improve/sustain in-lake and downstream aquatic habitat during extreme low flows
- Evaluate more stable lake levels and increased flow releases during low flows
- Compare benefits versus impacts of alternatives
- Provide recommendations for revised operation (with one option being to make no adjustments to the current operation)
The types of operational adjustments the team analyzed for low flows included:
- Maintaining current operations
- Revised fall release
- More stable lake level
- Increased lake level
- Revised minimum release
- Fisheries-based releases (brown trout, smallmouth bass, longnose dace)
- Water-quality-based releases
The decision to terminate the study follows the findings from the modeling and environmental analysis of the various alternatives. While results from several of the alternatives show environmental benefits could occur when implemented during low flows, the benefits are marginal - at most 12 percent above current conditions during low flows.
In addition, some of the alternatives may have required physical modifications to structures like marinas and beaches to deal with potential changes in water levels during the recreation season when triggered (which is anticipated to happen very infrequently). The Corps made it clear that it would not recommend any changes to operations that affect the dam's primary purposes of flood risk management or recreation.
The Corps listened to and considered the feedback received from stakeholders and members of the public through various means like its initial public workshop, attendance at borough council meetings and email study status updates. This feedback played a critical role in the decision to conclude the study.
The Commission spent months performing research and running models as part of this effort, and, although the study is concluding, a lot of valuable information has been collected that could benefit the region in the future.