Almost $90 million worth of lake improvements are planned across Pennsylvania

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

Some have said Pennsylvania has two seasons – winter and construction.

While road crews are busy repaving roads and replacing bridges, work is also underway to improve lakes across the commonwealth.

Water is starting to fill Somerset Lake this summer in Somerset County. A new spillway and breast was completed on the waterway in 2021 and a refilling ceremony was held June 10.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has just completed the Somerset Lake Project in Somerset County, and last year Meadow Grounds Lake in Fulton County was restored.

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But now there are an estimated $87,745,788 worth of other lake projects that are in permitting, pre-construction, construction, design or planning phases.

“It’s old infrastructure,” Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission, said at the June 10 celebration of Somerset Lake’s refilling effort, about the need to update lakes across the state.

Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, talks June 10, 2022, about the wooden habitat structures that are now placed in Somerset Lake for fish. Behind him, from left, are Gary Smith, fisheries biologist, Ben Page, lake habitat section chief, Don Anderson, PFBC commissioner, Jim Moses from Somerset Lake Action Committee, and Gerald Walker, Somerset County commissioner.

He said the agency has been busy making improvements and there are many more on the horizon.

“We completed 16 dam projects to the tune of $80 million. We have one in construction, right now. ... Lower Pond up in Wayne County,” he said.  Lower Pond will receive close to $5 million in improvements.

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“We have 27 other projects that are either in design, planning or pre-construction that are going to total $90 million,” he said.

The funding has come through a variety of sources, including the agency’s own resources. “We have been able to leverage money released from the governor’s budget office, motor boat fuel tax revenue …” Shaeffer said about some of the funding partners.

Paul Urbanik, PFBC director of engineering, said the list of projects involves waterways “that are either past or nearing their design life span of 50 years.” They are working to correct lakes that have been deemed by the state to be high and low hazard dams.

Paul Urbanik, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission director of engineering, talks June 10, 2022, about the new spillway for Somerset Lake.

The agency works with about 400 employees on a budget where it relies on angler license dollars, boating dollars and state capital funds.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish from a dam safety perspective, I’d be willing to bet no other agency in the entire lower 48 has been able to accomplish what we have been able to accomplish.”  Urbanik said about rebuilding their entire dam portfolio over the course of 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve been able to achieve is pretty darn special.”

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Here’s a look at the costs for the various lake improvements across the state.

Permitting

There are three in Wayne County needing spillway and dam embankment rehabilitation improvements. Belmont Lake is looking at a $4,227,845 project, Miller Pond is $5,822,000, and White Oak Pond is $5,855,000.

Construction

Lower Woods Lake, also in Wayne County, is the only project labeled as being in the construction phase. It’s a $4,825,796 effort.

Pre-construction 

Children’s Lake in Cumberland County is anticipating $3,607,000 in improvements

Design

The state has 11 waterways in the design phase.

Beechwood Lake in Tioga County is estimated at $6,155,000. It’s a cost partnership with Natural Resource Conservation Service, a federal agency. The PFBC is paying $950,000 of the total.

Paul Urbanik, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission director of engineering, stands at the side of the new spillway for Somerset Lake.

Harris Pond's improvements in Luzerne County will cost an estimated $2,694,500.

High Point Lake in Somerset County will have the spillway replaced at an estimated cost of $7,513,750.

Kahle Lake’s spillway project in Venango County is expected to cost $8,165,000.

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Hemlock Lake in Indiana County is looking at a $4,908,750 project.

Virgin Run Lake in Fayette County needs $4,583,135 in improvements.

Cloe Lake in Jefferson County needs embankment drainage work expected to cost $858,813.

Stevens Lake in Wyoming County has a $2,434,000 project.

Rose Valley Lake in Lycoming needs $5,885,625 in repairs.

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Fords Lake in Lackawanna County is slated for a $3,150,375 project.

Hunters Lake in Sullivan County needs $3,280,625 in work.

Planning

Looking ahead, Pennsylvania has a dozen lake projects that are labeled in the planning phase.

Lily Lake in Luzerne County is estimated at $480,260.

Stump Pond in Susquehanna is $3,433,800.

Union City Supply Dam is a small earthen dam with a concrete spillway that supplies water to the agency's Union City culture facility in Erie County. The $1,038,400 project will include a spillway replacement, valve box replacement and improvements to the earthen dam section.

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Browns Pond in Warren County is slated for $3,481,000 in improvements.

Duman Lake in Cambria County is estimated at $4,708,200.

Douglas Pound in Wayne County has a $3,705,200 project.

Lake Winola in Wyoming County has a $480,260 plan

Shaeffer Mill in Cumberland County is looking at $109.760 in improvements.

The pond at Springfield in Cumberland County, Benner Spring Supply in Centre County and Bellefonte Shad Supply in Centre County, all are to be eliminated. Urbanik explained these three are different dam removal projects. “They are small, low hazard dams that are beyond their useful life.” 

The last one in planning is C.F. Walker Lake in Snyder County at $725,000. It’s also a cost share project with the NRCS.

Completed

In recent years, the following 16 lake and dam projects were completed at a total cost of $82,732,193 from a variety of state and local sources.

Speedwall Forge Lake in Lancaster improvements cost $8,611,933

Nessmuk Lake in Tioga County totaled $1,120,805

The project at Cannonsburg Lake in Washington County totaled $2,686,419

Dutch Fork Lake also in Washington County was a $5,079,379 effort.

Glade Run Lake in Butler County received $2,813,558 in work.

Paul Urbanik, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission director of engineering, speaks to a crowd June 10, 2022, about the new spillway for Somerset Lake in Somerset County. His office has been designing numerous lake projects around the state. Standing behind him are colleagues Gary Smith, area fisheries biologist, and Ben Page, lake habitat section chief.

Colyer Lake in Centre County was a $4,738,612 project.

Hereford Manor’s improvements in Beaver County totaled $439,316

Opossum Lake in Cumberland County had a $3,399,000 project.

Leaser Lake’s work in Lehigh County came in at $3,705,150.

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Tamarack Lake’s project in Crawford County was completed at a cost of $10,800,000.

Mountain Springs Lake in Luzerne County was a smaller project at $198,000.

Kyle Lake in Jefferson County was a $5,930,101 improvement.

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Donegal Lake in Westmoreland County was rebuilt in late 2019 and refilled in 2020 for $6,588,569.

Minsi Lake in Northampton County was restored with $6,528,819.

Meadow Grounds in Fulton County where $6,342,399 was spent to rebuild and refill the waterway in 2021.

And the most recent project to be completed this year is Somerset Lake in Somerset County. The total work including habitat improvements through a variety of sources totaled $10,050,073.

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While it appears to be a long list of waterways, the agency’s engineers are also thinking about other infrastructure needs for the agency, including buildings, access areas, launch ramps, a new office for the northwest region and hatchery improvements.

“There’s a whole smorgasbord of projects going on,” Urbanik said.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.