WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — After a more than six year process, residents of East and West Mead townships may finally see the day when Tamarack Lake is back to its full capacity.
At a special seminar hosted at the West Mead Township Building on Wednesday, representatives from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Lake Management Society presented information to get locals up to speed on the progress and how to support the effort.
After a little more than $9.8 million, the Tamarack dam project is 93 percent finished as of Tuesday. While the target date to begin refilling the lake is slated for April 15, the rate of refilling is dependent on rainfall and base flow rates, according to Paul Urbanik, engineer for the state Fish & Boat Commission.
Based on other dams of this size, Urbanik estimated a refill time of approximately six months, with engineering inspections continuing every week during this time. He said the engineers don't want to fill it more than one or two feet a week to give materials time to adjust to pressure and saturation. A huge rainstorm would require the reservoir to be drained yet again to ensure a slow, steady buildup of water.
“We're not quite ready to say 'mission accomplished,'" Urbanik said. "The refilling of the dam is very critical because you're testing out all these new features, new structures. You're really testing those foundation soils and the dam embankments themselves."
While the reservoir is refilled, Urbanik also confirmed the restoration of the parking lot and replacement of the docks, boat launch ramps, jetties and signage ramps. The engineers will announce when boats will be safe to be on the lake.
Brian Ensign, a fisheries biologist for the Fish & Boat Commission, explained that Tamarack, as a shallow lake with a maximum depth of 16 feet, is good for fish production. To restock the lake with fish, the lake must be drained completely to remove any foreign species of fish or plants.
The de-water process is planned for late March or early April, particularly to remove common carp, a species from Europe and Asia that has a negative effect on water quality and fish habitat. After the last refill in 1999, the carp population exploded, and the lake was plagued with their increased presence until the total drain in 2012.
The varieties of fish planned for the lake include muskellunge, walleye, largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, white crappie and yellow perch, Ensign said. Forage species added to the lake include golden shiner, bluntnose minnow, spottail shiner, white sucker and golden redhorse.
Depending on lake conditions, Ensign said initial stockings could occur this year. Pending Fish & Boat Commission approval, Tamarack would be added to the catch-and-release program. Surveys would be conducted regularly to monitor the development of the fish population, and results will determine when the commission would relax regulations to allow for fish harvest.
Brian Pilarcik of the Crawford County Conservation District and the Pennsylvania Lake Management Society spoke about ways the local community can get involved in keeping Tamarack Lake thriving. He warned about the ecological effects of non-native species of plants, particularly hydrilla.
Hydrilla, named the “world’s worst invasive aquatic plant,” by the Fish and Wildlife Service, has small, bright green, pointed leaves with serrated edges and a potato-like tuber at the end of its underground stems that set it apart from lookalikes.
Pilarcik encouraged the community to get involved with the Friends of Tamarack Lake, a grassroots nonprofit involved in lobbying state and local governments for the lake’s restoration, and serve as watchdogs for any fish, plants or pollution brought in from boats or bait-fishing. Melissa Fuller, a representative from Friends, served to introduce the presentation and later admitted the need for more members with expertise on the fish and wildlife that populate the lake.
"You guys are the eyes and ears of the reservoir," Pilarcik said. "A strong group normally includes participation from the local municipalities, community members, interest groups and resource agencies. Having all those organizations working together is going to make your group a lot stronger. You've really got to have all those interest groups in the process."
Questions from attendees at the seminar ranged from whether turtles will return (Ensign was optimistic) to whether the barn on the north side would be saved (Urbanik confirmed it will stay) to what boats will be allowed (limited to boats powered by electric motors and un-powered boats).
"It was wonderful to be able to pull this together," Pilarcik said. "We're finally getting the reservoir back. It's a little more fun to have talks like this when we're talking about refilling, the fisheries that are going in there, what options are available for really getting involved."
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.