Penns Valley

State suspends draining Colyer Lake, will hold public input session

The draining of Colyer Lake has been temporarily halted, and the state will look for money to upgrade the dam at the Potter Township watering hole.

Officials from the Fish and Boat Commission recently determined the lake’s current depth is low enough that it would take significant rainfall — the kind of storm that comes only once every 25 years — to overflow and trigger the dam’s deficient spillway to open. The deficiencies in the spillway were the root of the state’s decision to start draining the lake back in March.

So far, the lake has been drained 17 feet.

However, the solution is not acceptable in the long term, officials have said, and they plan to talk about the safety issues concerning the lake at a public meeting next week. Officials also will take comments from the public at the meeting, which is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Penns Valley Area High School auditorium.

At its current level, the lake will have about 30 acres of water, which may not be ideal for fishing and boating, officials said.

The state Fish and Boat Commission’s top executive notified two local lawmakers this week about the decision to stop emptying the lake. The lawmakers, Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, have fielded concerns from Colyer Lake residents and others concerned about the potential of the loss of the lake.

“It is reasonable to maintain this new level and condition for a brief period of time, but this is not a long-term solution,” Executive Director John Arway wrote to Corman and Benninghoff. “If funding cannot be secured within a reasonable time frame, we anticipate that the next step would be a full drawdown followed by planning for a full breach.”

A commission spokesman said three factors are important in assessing the lake: the time it would take for rain to fill the lake and trigger the spillway, the amount of water in the spillway and how long the spillway stays activated by the water.

“At the current lake elevation, the spillway could potentially be activated following a 25-year event, which demonstrates that holding the lake at this level is not acceptable,” spokesman Eric Levis said.

If the lake were emptied, the spillway would be activated by something catastrophic, such as a 500-year storm. Lowering the water level to 17 feet will allow the lake to function in the same way as it would if it were emptied and still have some recreational use, Levis said.

An ad hoc group spearheaded by Colyer Lake resident and county President Judge Thomas King Kistler has come together to save the lake from being drained. He met with Fish and Boat Commission officials and the lawmakers in April to press for a solution.

“I’m very gratified that the fish commission was willing to look at whether the dam would be safe and can still be used for recreational purposes,” Kistler said Thursday.

The group, which numbers more than 500 people, he said, is looking into applying for grants to pay to fix the dam.

Corman, R-Benner Township, said the future of Colyer Lake is a top priority for him, and he’s working with the Fish and Boat Commission on ideas to fund the repairs to the dam. Those funding sources include the capital budget.

“Maintaining and fixing dams is a public safety responsibility and a core function of the Fish and Boat Commission,” Corman said. “We will continue to work with them to find a solution in the near and long term.”