Dry Summer - Rolling Rivers
by Bob Rancan
September 13, 2022
When I add trips to the calendar, people frequently ask, "what happens if it rains?" My standard reply is "you get wet!" But the real questions should be, "what happens if it doesn't rain?"
Well, the rivers and streams we like to run get very low and usually it is a challenge to find water once summer rolls around. This year has been tougher than usual in North Jersey. After better than average rainfall in April and May and a typical June, July and August saw a lot less rain than in the several years previous (ref. Delaware and Raritan System Operations Report -NJ Water Supply Authority).
The saving grace is that river flows around our area are often controlled and manipulated. The headwaters of the Raritan are a major source of drinking water and big impoundments at Spruce Run and Round Vallery Reservoirs were created to meet the needs of many households. So, water is moved from place to place and river levels come up. The South Branch of the Raritan has been running consistently all summer and at a decent level. Spruce Run releases are being augmented by Round Valley water entering at the Hamden pump station so that in addition to getting the water to the end users and keeping water temperatures consistent to benefit the fishery, we had good levels to paddle.
On September 3rd I had a great response to a late Labor Day weekend add-on to the Schedule: 26 paddlers in 10 canoes and 16 kayaks. It was a nice day - a bit on the cool side but a fine level: 3.18 ft, 263cfs at the Stanton gauge. There were osprey, Great Blue Herons, a green heron, Belted Kingfishers, common mergansers and Mute Swans...in other words, the usual suspects - a big success!
The following week, September 10th, I was looking forward to a Saturday "boater release" on the mighty Lackawaxen in Pike Co., PA. The company that operates the power plant at Lake Wallenpaupack had cancelled all 6 Friday releases in July and August due to "maintenance activities and the natural flow of the Lackawaxen not being deemed adequate". In July, when it was hot and steamy, I did get a run in up there as the company continued to provide power to meet peak demands. However, I anticipated that the 9/10 release would be cancelled as well but it rained a lot early in the week and the Lackawaxen flow at Hawley above the plant shot up to over 5' and the hydro plant kept generating round the clock. Encouraged by the high water flow I put out a reminder with the caution that experience and good equipment would be essential.
However, the rain had come a bit too early for our purposes. By the time Saturday morning rolled around the company had indeed cancelled the boater release and in fact wasn't generating at all. Well, we made the drive and a vote amongst the 12 paddlers preferred a low-water run to a float on the nearby Delaware. Four canoes , eight kayaks and low water: 506cfs around 11AM to 489cfs at 1:45PM when we passed the Rowland gauge. Lots of zigs and zags- great river reading practice- beautiful day and of course a great Bald Eagle sighting.
Of course, the power plant did resume operations and the water level started to rise again around 5PM. We should have timed our trip from around 6 to midnight...but what are you gonna do? Thanks to the many folks who joined me - over 30 for both trips!
> Click here to check out Martin's pictures of the South Branch trip.