Community group works to save Canonsburg Lake
Jul 11, 2019
The fishing reports from Canonsburg Lake are disappointing. Anglers who have fished the Washington County impoundment for decades say the fish are harder to catch as the lake slowly disappears into marshes and mud banks.
“Ducks are walking where they used to swim,” said Tim Silbaugh of Peters, board member of a nonprofit community group formed to rescue Canonsburg Lake.
At a meeting in June with Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the state Fish and Boat Commission, Mr. Silbaugh and members of the Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Association pointed to the lake’s economic and recreational value and requested Fish and Boat assistance.
Mr. Schaeffer pledged support for the lake’s restoration and a Fish and Boat engineer has been assigned to evaluate the dam and impoundment’s structural needs, according to Mr. Silbaugh.
“He said they’re looking for financial resources, but we shouldn’t expect Fish and Boat to fund all of it,” Mr. Silbaugh said.
The damming of Little Chartiers Creek, sometimes called Linden Creek, created the freshwater reservoir for the aluminum industry during World War II. The 138-acre property is now owned by the state. The lake, which originally spanned 76 acres and reached a depth of 18 feet, is managed by Fish and Boat.
Canonsburg Lake empties into environmentally stressed Chartiers Creek, which winds through Bridgeville and Carnegie before its confluence with the Ohio River at McKees Rocks.
“As of several years ago it was estimated that 60 percent of [the lake’s] water capacity was gone, and 20 percent of the surface was gone,” said Mr. Silbaugh. “Our goal is to see what we can do about bringing it back as it was so it will sustain fish and other wildlife.”
A popular spring fishing destination, Canonsburg Lake receives four state stockings of rainbow trout per year and is managed in the Stocked Trout Waters Open to Year-Round Fishing program. Channel catfish are stocked as yearlings and fingerlings. Fish and Boat night electrofishing surveys show the number of largemouth bass collected per hour dropped from 120 in 2000 to about 60 in 2018.
In 2000, Fish and Boat found the lake overwhelmed by invasive gizzard shad, most likely dumped there by unwitting anglers. A 2018 survey showed that large mouths, channel cats and other predators had reduced the shad population, and white crappies and bluegill now dominate the warm-water lake.
A previous community effort to upgrade the lake made some progress. Improvements to the dam were made in 2012. With public and private money, a small forebay pool and weir were constructed in 2015 to reduce sedimentation. Without periodic maintenance, said Mr. Silbaugh, the structures are now contributing to the build-up of silt.
Rough estimates for the cost of refurbishing the lake are $13 million. Mr. Silbaugh said Republican state Reps. Bud Cook and Timothy O’Neal have signaled their support. The association has created a website, SaveCanonsburgLake.org, to inform the public and raise funding.
Fish and Boat will hold a Family Fishing Program at Canonsburg Lake on Aug. 2 for anglers age 5 and up. All gear and bait will be provided and license requirements will be waived. Register at fishandboat.com.
On Monday, June 17th, Kim Rosser and Tim Silbaugh, members of the Board of Directors of the recently formed Canonsburg Lake Restoration & Improvement Association (“CLRIA”), travelled to Harrisburg under the banner, “Save Canonsburg Lake,” where they met with Timothy Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (“PFBC”), Representative Bud Cook (PA District 49), PFBC legislative liaison, Julie K. Carraghan, and Representative Timothy O’Neal (PA District 48) to discuss the remediation and improvement of Canonsburg Lake. The meeting, arranged by Representative Cook and Ms Carraghan, was constructive by any measure. Mr. Silbaugh informed those in attendance that the Association, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, is a successor to the Canonsburg Lake Restoration & Improvement Committee, which had been led by Deborah Valentino, and had done admirable work in saving Canonsburg Lake over the past 20+ years.
All agreed that Canonsburg Lake is a regional recreational and economic resource that is in danger of disappearing. Representative Cook began the meeting by stating that even though Canonsburg Lake is not in his district, he views the lake as important to Southwestern Pennsylvania, and that its loss would be a loss to the area. Mr. Silbaugh remarked that an Army Corp of Engineer’s Report completed a few years ago predicted that without remediation, the lake would become only a stream. He added that, “Waterfowl are walking in many areas where they were swimming two short years ago.” Ms. Rosser added that much of the fish habitat has been replaced with marshland, and that recent and newly scheduled residential construction will exacerbate the problem, challenging the lake’s biological and ecological land and water habitation, wildlife, and recreational capabilities. Rep. O’Neal explained that the lake’s severely diminished capacity contributes to downstream flooding and property losses in Washington and Allegheny Counties.
Mr. Schaeffer, who was well-prepared for the meeting, began by informing everyone that Canonsburg Lake is owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and managed by the PFBC. He emphasized that: “Canonsburg Lake is important to the PFBC and I pledge PFBC support for its restoration.” He noted that while the dam had been repaired in 2012, and that a weir and forebay had been constructed in 2015, periodic maintenance has not been accomplished, which contributes to the lake’s deterioration. He informed those at the meeting that he would assign an engineer to review the status of the lake and make recommendations for current maintenance and restoration to the PFBC and the CLRIA. He remarked that restoration and improvement of Canonsburg Lake will be a lengthy and expensive project, with a recent estimate of cost in excess of $13,000.000. He added that he will assign PFBC personnel to determine what Commonwealth funds may be available for this project. Mr. Schaeffer concluded that: “Restoration will require professional analysis, prudent decision-making and both public and private funding,” and encouraged the CLRIA to continue its work.
The Association commends these public servants for their support in improving and preserving the Commonwealth’s waterways and environmental resources. The Canonsburg Lake Restoration & Improvement Association continues to schedule meetings with elected officials, government agencies, private and corporate funding resources, and individuals who may broaden the CLRIA capabilities, all with the goal to “Save Canonsburg Lake”.
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