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AWA asks customers to reduce water use

Continuing dry weather depleting local reservoirs

The Altoona Water Authority plans to ask customers to limit non-essential water use because of the continuing dry weather.

Authority reservoirs currently contain enough water to last 190 days — or past the start of the end of February “replenishing period,” when spring rains usually begin — but at 55% of capacity, they’re down 7% from last month, General Manager Mark Perry said Thursday.

“It’s concerning,” Perry said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection put Blair County on a drought watch in late August, and the authority will be issuing its own drought watch “formally,” Perry said.

The water level in the authority’s 11 reservoirs is collectively low not just because of dry weather, but because of the recent installation of replacement rubber dams at Lake Altoona and the Impounding Dam and recent spray-on concrete work on the upstream face of the Blair Gap dam, according to Perry.

The rubber dams were replaced because previous ones recently installed had failed, which meant that Lake Altoona and the reservoir behind the Impounding Dam couldn’t be raised to the level that functional rubber dams would have allowed.

Moreover, the authority further lowered those reservoirs to allow for installation of the new dams, Perry said.

The spray-on concrete work required the Blair Gap reservoir to be lowered as well.

To help preserve the water that remains, the authority plans to ask DEP for permission to reduce the amount of water being released downstream.

Minimum release requirements are designed to ensure sufficient water below the dams to support aquatic life and to provide enough for the needs of other communities.

Cutting back dam releases is one of the strategies in the authority’s drought plan, according to consulting engineer Mark Glenn of Gwin Dobson & Foreman.

Currently, more water is leaving the reservoirs than coming in, staff engineer Mike Sinisi said.

“Inflow is minimal,” Perry said. It’s likely the authority may argue for a better balance between incoming and outgoing water, Perry said.

There is no minimum release requirement for the three reservoirs below the Horseshoe Curve, for reasons that include the continual bypass of acid-mine-drainage-tainted Kittanning Run around those reservoirs, which ensures continual flow downstream, Perry said.

He plans to ask DEP for permission to reduce the minimums for the other reservoirs.

Meanwhile, authority workers are making sure that releases for all the reservoirs are currently at the minimum, he said.

Despite water levels being down, there are still 1.5 billion gallons left in the reservoirs, which have a total capacity of 2.85 billion gallons, Glenn pointed out.

That capacity, which exists because there are many reservoirs, is a major advantage during drought, helping ensure there is usually enough water despite Altoona’s located in a headwaters area, with no major rivers.

Maintaining those reservoirs and the seven treatment plants and distribution systems that serve them is “costly and cumbersome,” but beneficial in “times like this,” Perry said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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