The Tygart River and Lake's water levels are taking a dive due to the lack of rainfall, forcing the cancellation of trips and boat tours at the Tygart Lake State Park.
As a result, Tygart Lake State Park has recently announced it will have to close the marina early for the season. According to Mike Estock, resource manager for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as of Thursday the Tygart Lake is down 13.6 feet below summer pool, their expected capacity for the season.
Estock said the water levels of the lake are dropping about a half-a-foot a day.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Next to the historic Covered Bridge and behind the Blue and Gray Park in Philippi, a ramp doesn’t touch the water in the Tygart Valley River. According to the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, in an online chart updated daily, the water value in the Tygart Valley River at Philippi is observed at 10 a.m. on Thursday at 3.58 feet. Between Sunday and Monday, that value was 5 feet.
"And that will probably increase as the lake gets lower," Estock told The Inter-Mountain, adding that there is no danger of the lake running dry.
Officials at Tygart Lake State Park have been aware of the decrease in water levels for several weeks.
"We've noticed that it's continuing to drop and we knew without significant rainfall, we'd have to close the marina early," said Brennon O'Sullivan, superintendent for Tygart Lake State Park.
O'Sullivan said that the park hoped to keep the marina open into August, "but there's just no rain," he said.
According to Estock, the marina will close on Sunday because "they have to have enough time for the boaters to get all their boats out and then they have to remove their docks."
One state park ramp is already out of the water.
According to Estock, there's about 8 or 9 feet remaining on another ramp and about 13 feet on a third ramp.
"It's really sad. This is our peak season at the park and with the 11 days we went without power, that was a definite hit to the park. It'll be a negative affect on the economy and the park," said O'Sullivan. Also, he wants to make it clear that only the marina will be closed; the remaining attractions and the park itself will remain open.
Estock said that the launch ramp at Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management area "is always available."
According to O'Sullivan, people have been canceling trips and overnight reservations because there isn't enough water to bring boats in and it's "had effect on revenue at the park and the local community." He also said the boat ramps aren't long enough to reach the water and businesses in the area that get a great deal of service from visitors to the park will suffer as well.
"Right now, the reason we're dropping is we're only seeing less than 10 percent of flows that we would normally see from the Tygart Valley River," said Estock.
Estock said the dam's mission is navigation, because it supplies water through the Watson dams along the Monongahela and upper Ohio rivers. Currently, the dam in Taylor County is only releasing the minimum of 360 cubic feet of water per second.
"We've been at our minimum discharge for over a month. What we're seeing come down the Tygart right now I think is only less than 40 CFS (cubic feet per second). We're releasing more than we're getting in, that's why the lake is falling," said Estock.
Many officials agree that what is needed now is rain, and much of it.
"When it rains hard in other areas... it's the larger water shed that fills this lake. It's not the immediate rainfall in this area," said O'Sullivan. He also said those "tributaries would have to come from further up the Tygart Valley River, upstream from us."
The Tygart Valley River flows north from Pocohantas County through Randolph and Barbour Counties into Taylor County. Philippi's water plant draws water from the Tygart Valley River for distribution.
"The Tygart is very very low... and is right now at the level where it normally is in late August," said Barbour County Commission President Phil Hart. Many other Barbour County officials have told The Inter-Mountain that same thing.
The city of Philippi supplies more than 80 percent of the county residents' water, according to Hart. Without sufficient rainfall, water levels in area rivers and lakes, including the Tygart, will continue to drop.
"(The recent rainfall) has no effect at all. They're usually isolated. They're not covering the entire watershed. We really need a consistent rain over the entire watershed to really have any affect on the lake right now," said Estock.
"The ground is so dry where it hasn't rained much, the ground just absorbs the water," O'Sullivan said, adding, "we need a multi-day steady rain."
O'Sullivan said that it's his understanding that every lake in the Pittsburgh district is "running a little bit low right now."
"One thing that was our concern is the health and safety with the limited water issue (in Barbour County)," said Hart.
Barbour County officials are working to create an emergency connection of waterlines between local Public Service Districts that can exchange drinking water via those lines in either direction during an emergency.
"If we don't get some rain to increase the flow of the river it's going to be very, very critical to the city," Hart said, adding "I haven't seen it this low."
Hart announced on Thursday at a commission meeting that there is a current project underway to connect the Central Barbour PSD and the city of Belington. Officials say that water could be supplied by Belington or Philippi.
"Once the construction of the City of Philippi water plant is completed they'll have back up emergency power. If we can get these systems interconnected, we'll be in pretty good shape," Hart said.
Belington's water tanks have back up generators and remained operational throughout the emergency situation following the June 28 storm that swept through West Virginia and left many residents without power for days.
Barbour County Commissioners also said that generators, although beneficial when power is lost, won't help in a low water situation.
"There's some proclamations from the state of West Virginia and all the reports that we think we need to do this project on an emergency basis," said Chuck Foley, Barbour County Administrator.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin agreed to have the waterlines interconnected in an emergency order to interconnect waterlines between the city of Belington and Central Barbour PSD.
The designs for the project came from Thrasher Engineering who is also conducting a study to prevent situations that could limit water in an emergency.
"We've been looking at avenues to help prevent some of the things that's happened," said Commissioner Tim McDaniels.
The Barbour County 911 Center will provide an after action report to take place at 2 p.m. July 19 at the 911 center.