POTTER TOWNSHIP — Colyer Lake will be drained starting as soon as next week due to deficiencies in the dam, state Fish & Boat Commission officials said.
Those deficiencies have prompted the agency to drain the reservoir until the dam can be repaired to meet safety and engineering standards.
Andy Shiels, deputy director for field operations, said commission engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection routinely inspect the dam. During an inspection in December, he said they found that the existing undermining beneath the dam’s spillway has become more severe.
“The condition for the spillway’s structural integrity necessitates that a complete draw down of the lake be performed so that further testing and analysis can be conducted,” Shiels said.
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat spokesman Eric Levis said the draining may take up to three months to complete.
He added that the lake would be drained at a rate of about 2 feet a week depending on the weather.
“The lake will be drawn down indefinitely until funding can be identified and secured to make the necessary repairs,” Levis said.
The estimated construction cost is about $6.8 million, Levis said, adding that Colyer Lake is currently unfunded and repair work, once the lake is drained, is unscheduled.
Colyer Lake is a 77-acre reservoir owned by the state and managed by the commission. Since 2003, Levis said the lake has been drained by about 10 feet.
The general public fears that once the lake is drained, the state will leave it completely abandoned.
Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler, who owns property on the lake, said he and other residents are in “shock and awe” that a draining is taking place so suddenly.
“We’ve heard rumors for so long, but are taken off-guard with this new information,” Kistler said. “Any time we have asked about more information, we’ve been denied it.”
Kistler said Colyer Lake has been around since the mid-1960s as the only body of water in south central Centre County at the doorstep of Rothrock State Forest.
“It’s a peaceful, recreational gem,” he said as he explained that during the summer he is an active kayaker and canoer. “It’s never overly crowded, but it’s so often used for fishing and boating that it would be a shame to take away.”
“We recognize that Colyer Lake is a popular fishing and boating location,” Shiels added. “However, a concern for the safety of the downstream residents and businesses necessitate this drawdown.”
But Levis said that abandoning it is not in their plans.
“This is a statewide issue, and Colyer Lake is one of a number of lakes we have to drain,” he said. “It’s important to know that it will not be abandoned. We have every intention of rebuilding it. The key challenge is finding the funding to rebuild.”
The commission manages 19 dams throughout Pennsylvania that are considered as “high-hazard” or unsafe.
These unsafe dams, according to the commission, have deficiencies that if not corrected and the dams were to fail, substantial property damage and possible loss of human life could occur.
Two projects have been removed from high-hazard status; six projects are 100 percent funded and construction activities are complete; three projects are 100 percent funded with the designed of repair would expected to begin within the year; and two projects are scheduled for design and repair in the next two years. Levis said seven projects remain unfunded statewide, including Colyer Lake.
Levis said the money would come from the commission.
“We don’t have the revenues to rebuild, so it’s critical for us to work with the community to secure money,” Levis said.
In the best-case scenario, Levis said the general time frame to begin the rebuilding of the dam is between three to five years from when funding becomes available.
Levis said the commission is working with local legislators to find money in the state’s budget to help fund these projects.
Levis said commission biologists are developing a plan to remove and relocate as many fish as possible. That would start by the end of the month.
Popular fish include largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, chain pickerel and sunfish.
The lake, according to a commission report, will remain open to public use until the water level reaches a point where it may be unsafe for anglers. At that time, the lake will then close until further notice.