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Hereford Manor lakes ready to be drained

| Sunday, July 18, 2010

There haven't been an inordinate number of anglers flocking to either Upper or Lower Hereford Manor lakes this summer.

In fact, the fishing pressure has been less than normal.

"I don't know why, but there just haven't been a ton of people fishing there lately," said Emmett Kyler, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's waterways conservation officer in Beaver County, said of the lakes near Ellwood City. "Not that I've seen anyway."

Under normal circumstances, that might seem slightly odd, but not surprising. But the lakes' futures are anything but normal.

By this time next year, both will be well on their way to becoming a couple of dry holes in the ground.

The Fish and Boat Commission is preparing to breach both dams because they don't meet state Department of Environmental Protection safety standards for so-called "high hazard" dams, or ones that could cause significant loss of life and property were they to give way.

Plans are to drain the 45-acre Lower Hereford, which holds 195 million gallons of water, starting April 4 of next year. That will take 20 days weather permitting, said Jerry Woomer, an engineer in the commission's bureau of engineering and property services. Draining of the 20-acre Upper Hereford of its 57 million gallons will begin Sept. 5 and take 10 days.

Both dams will then be breached and the stream channel running through them, Doe Run, will then be restored to its original pathway.

The cost of that work is expected to reach $3.1 million, he said.

What happens beyond that is in question. The commission would like to repair both dams and refill the lakes, as they are popular stocked trout waters and hold good warmwater fisheries, too, said Denny Tubbs, aquatic resource planning specialist in the commission's southwest region office.

But that will be expensive. Woomer said various alternatives put the cost of repairing the dams at between $11 million and $30 million.

"That's a lot of money, and we just don't have those kinds of resources," Tubbs said.

The lakes were built in the 1940s as part of a strip-mining operation. The commission bought them in 1973 for $350,000.

They've been a source of problems in recent years, however. The commission did a partial drawdown of Upper Hereford in 2003, then drew down Lower Hereford four feet this past winter, all because of the deteriorating condition of the dams.

Breaching them is a necessity whether they are rebuilt or not, Woomer said, because they can't be repaired or renovated as is.

But whether the lakes will be rebuilt is the concern for many. Draining lakes is a rare thing, Woomer said, but it happened once before in the southwest region. The commission drained Dutch Fork Lake in Washington County in 2005.

That lake sat dry for years and looked as if it might stay that way forever before the commission secured a $4 million grant tied to casino gaming revenues. The money is to be used to restore the lake.

There's been no such lifeline identified for Upper and Lower Hereford yet, despite hearings held by Beaver County area lawmakers.

With the draining of the lakes looming, both will be removed from the commission's trout stocking list, Tubbs said. Those fish will be allocated to other nearby waters. The warmwater fish in the lakes, meanwhile, will be salvaged and moved elsewhere, likely to the Beaver River.

But for right now, the lakes still offer some good fishing. A survey of Lower Hereford done in 2008 found good numbers of largemouth bass, some of them up to 21 inches. There are various panfish to be had, too, along with the occasional walleye.

"If anyone's ever wanted to try fishing Hereford, now's the time," said Tim Wilson, a fisheries biologist in the commission's area 1 office in Linesville. "Because they are about to go away."

Plan in place

Here's a tentative timeline for the draining of Upper and Lower Hereford Manor lakes, as identified by Fish and Boat Commission engineer Jerry Woomer:

Drain lower reservoir: April 4 to May 5, 2011

Construct box culvert under Route 288: June 3 to Aug. 11, 2011

Breech lower dam: Aug. 1 to Sept. 16, 2011

Drain upper reservoir: Sept. 5 to 15, 2011

Breech upper dam: Sept. 26 to Oct. 7, 2011

Miscellaneous site restoration: Oct. 10 to Nov. 4, 2011

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