SUNBURY — Emergency repairs to the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam will force the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to lower the dam earlier than scheduled, shortening the summer boating season by nearly a month at the popular Lake Augusta.
This is the second time since 2017 that boating season was cut short. When the last two bags were replaced in 2017, the boating season ended early by more than a month, which affected seasonal businesses, boaters and the docks at the Sunbury Riverfront Park.
Boating season on the Susquehanna River starts in May when the bags of the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam are inflated, creating the 3,000-acre Lake Augusta. The season ends each September and the dam is lowered in early October. Emergency work will require full deflation of the rubber, inflatable dam and drawdown of Lake Augusta for the latter portion of this season, which normally extends into early October. Barring unforeseen significant changes in river flows or bag conditions, dam deflation will begin Tuesday, Sept. 3, DCNR reported Tuesday morning.
“Timing of this necessary draw-down and repair project is beyond our control. We must lower the dam to allow access to one of seven inflatable bags that is not properly retaining air,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “DCNR understands the importance and viability of Lake Augusta for Sunbury and surrounding river communities and remains steadfast in its commitment to return the lake to normal operations for the beginning of the 2020 boating season.”
The inflatable bags have a life expectancy of 25 years. Bag one on the Sunbury side and bag seven on the Shamokin Dam side were installed in 1985 and replaced in 2017, and bags two and three were installed in 2000. Shikellamy State Park Manager Nicholas Sherlock said bag six was installed around 2010.
The secretary noted the department had been working throughout the summer to make temporary repairs and prolong lake boating as long as water levels remained adequate. Safety of boaters always was paramount, she said.
After high water in June, the park detected air pressure dropping in Bag 6. During three weeks of around-the-clock work and monitoring, park staff discovered several small punctures in the bag, as well as damage to the air piping system. Staff had successfully made temporary repairs to keep the dam inflated, maintaining the recreational pool for continued public boating and water access.
Shikellamy State Park Marina slip holders must remove boats by the end of the day Tuesday, Sept. 3. Surrounding area boat and dock owners should also be aware that after Sept. 3, the river will return to winter pool levels and boat launches and docks may become inaccessible. All other day use areas at Shikellamy State Park will remain open.
For details on Lake Augusta boating and mooring, telephone Shikellamy State Park: 570-998-5557.
Sunbury Councilman Jim Eister said the city-owned docks will be removed at 7 a.m. Aug. 29. He said the Brews on Lake Augusta on Sept. 21, an event organized along the river by Sunbury Revitalization won't be canceled, but it won't be the same.
"It's a shame, but I'm sure the repairs are necessary," said Eister. "The festival is a beautiful event on the river, and it makes it nicer when the lake is up and the docks are up. It's just one of those things."
Eister said he hopes the repairs are permanent, and not a patch, so there will be no more issues down the road.
Amber Lind, president of Central PA Rowing Association, said this is essentially the third year in a row where boating season was cut short when considering how much rain and flooding occurred in 2018. The Harvest Moon Nighttime Row event on Sept. 14, which is one of the organization's biggest fundraisers, will have to be canceled, and members who were planning to participate in other events might have to pull out if they can't practice in Lake Augusta.
"We're definitely disappointed, but we're hoping the park is doing what is best so we don't have this problem for next year," said Lind.