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Corps: Water withdrawal won't harm Yough

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 4:41 p.m.

Armed with dozens of charts illustrating facts and figures to back them up, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers went into Fayette County last night to assure residents that withdrawing additional drinking water from the Youghiogheny River near Connellsville won't harm the environment or curtail recreational activities.

But after taking two hours to deliver that message in lengthy presentations rife with technical terms that some in the audience of 150 people said had them snoozing just 30 minutes into the meeting, the team of scientists found their message got lost in the translation.

'With all of those numbers and charts, to me you guys were speaking a foreign language,' said Tim Orndorff of Connellsville. 'No one in this audience understood it. You should have broken it down more.'

The Corps held the meeting at Connellsville Junior High East to give residents an update on a $489,000 water reallocation study they are conducting at the request of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

The Greensburg-based authority, which is funding half the cost of the study, wants to increase its permitted daily draw from the Youghiogheny from 28 million gallons to 42 million gallons.

Bob Waigand, corps project manager, said the corps is also looking at altering its release schedule at the Youghiogheny River Lake as part of the study. Under the proposed changes, more water would be held back at the dam during times of high precipitation and runoff to provide more water during dry periods.

Corps' hydrologist Werner Loehlein and limnologist Mike Koryak said neither the additional withdrawal of water nor the altered release schedule will significantly affect the river, including cold water fisheries near Connellsville.

But many in the audience said technical terms the scientists used to make their point were confusing.

'I tried to pay attention, but you wore me out,' said state Sen. Richard Kasunic, a Dunbar Township Democrat. 'I was overwhelmed and confused.'

Kasunic said the corps failed to show they have looked at the impact to the

river in the next 25 to 50 years. He said he fears granting MAWC's request

will leave Fayette County residents without adequate water supplies.

State Rep. Jim Shaner, a Dunbar Democrat, said he fell asleep a half hour into the presentation. He said the presentation fell short because it didn't answer the one question he and the others who came to the meeting wanted to hear: Will the corps and the state Department of Environmental Protection approve MAWC's request•

Although Kasunic said he feels that the corps and DEP have already decided to grant MAWC's request, Waigand said the study is far from complete.

'You could say we have it in our mind what we would like to do,' said Waigand. 'However, that's not in concrete. That's why we're asking for your input.'

Waigand said Congressional approval is needed to grant MAWC's request and to alter the release schedule at the dam. He said the earliest that may occur is in early 2002.

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