FOSTER JOSEPH SAYERS DAM, Penn. – After rainfall from Tropical Depression Gordon had already inundated Foster Joseph Sayers Lake and Tropical Depression Florence was on its way, Baltimore District personnel answered the call to protect the surrounding communities from major floods.
“We all know we’re here for the same purpose, to help prevent flooding,” Baltimore District’s Foster Joseph Sayers Dam head operator, Craig Eisenhower said. “And we got that job done.”
When remnants of Tropical Depression Gordon brought six inches of rain to central Pennsylvania, Foster Joseph Sayers Dam performed as designed and prevented major flooding to downstream communities. But with the dam gates closed to lessen the large amounts of water from flowing downstream, the excess rainfall caused Foster Joseph Sayers Lake to rise to 60 percent of the dam’s flood storage capacity at its peak.
Then Tropical Depression Florence began to work its way up the East Coast, forecasted to bring a surplus of rain with it as well. Committed to ensuring the public’s safety, Baltimore District employees from various disciplines jumped in to provide emergency support to the dam.
"We activated the Sayers Dam Emergency Action plan," Baltimore Emergency Management chief, Dorie Murphy said. “The Emergency Operation Center coordinated for additional personnel at the Dam as well as communicated with Downstream Emergency Management Agencies regarding water levels and USACE monitoring of the structure."
Dam operators and engineers began providing 24/7 monitoring of the project to measure the water level, the water pressure against the earthen structure and outflows downstream to ensure the dam was performing as designed for the community.
“Throughout Tropical Depressions Gordon and Florence, operations and engineering staff made sure to conduct regular inspections and monitoring to ensure the greatest care and safety for the community,” Dam Safety program manager, Brian Glock said.
Before Tropical Depression Florence’s arrival, dam operators and tenders were able to perform controlled water releases through the dam’s gates, allowing the lake water level to come down 4.5 feet from its highest point during Gordon to make room for Florence’s rains and prevent flooding.
Dam operators also worked to pump water from a ponding area by the Howard Levee into Foster Joseph Sayers Lake to make room for addition stormwater capacity and prevent stormwater runoff from flooding the nearby neighborhood.
Foster Joseph Sayers Lake currently stands around 15 feet above summer elevation, the fourth highest it has ever been since its construction in 1969. While water levels this high haven’t been seen since large rain events in 1993 and 1994, and Hurricane Agnes in 1972, the dam successfully carried out its intended purpose and stored water to prevent major flooding to downstream communities.
“We want the community to understand that this project is here for the purpose of preventing flooding to the downstream area below the dam,” Eisenhower said. “This year has been an extremely wet season and the team here and at District headquarters have done a great job maintaining the project and keeping flood levels below the dam to a minimum.”
Sayers dam is is a part of the comprehensive flood control plan for the protection of communities in the West Branch Susquehanna River Basin. The dam is designed to store more than 32 billion gallons of water behind it, that’s the quantity of over 48,000 olympic-sized swimming pools, and has prevented an estimated $212 million in flood damages since its construction.
“The dam functioned exactly as designed,” Glock said. “While we provided additional support during this high-water event, our operators at Sayers work incredibly hard every day to provide flood damage reduction and water quality to the West Branch Susquehanna River community.”