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Fate of York County lake depends on expensive dam repairs

Because of damage caused by Hurricane Ida, the earthen dam couldn’t safely hold the entire weight of the lake. So, the water levels were lowered 30 inches.

LEWISBERRY, Pa. — Riparian land owners surrounding Silver Lake in Fairview Township, York County are raising funds to repair dams containing the lake.

Silver Lake was created in 1786 by a manmade earthen dam that diverted nearby Bennet Run. The lake now also has a spillway and diversion dam.

Hurricanes over the years have demonstrated the weakness of the centuries-old dam; the lake overflowed after Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and Hurricane Ida last September.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has classified the lake as “high hazard” since 2013. If the dam were to breach, the lake would flood the downstream Lewisberry area.

Because of the additional damage caused by Hurricane Ida, the DEP was concerned the earthen dam couldn’t safely hold the entire weight of the lake. So the water level was lowered about 30 inches.

“Now DEP says we cannot refill the lake to full pull until we make all our repairs,” said Bradley Ellenberger, president of the Silver Lake Community Association.

The lower water level negatively affects aesthetics and recreational water activities.

“I want to have kids here. I want to raise a family here. It’s a great place to be,” said community association member Kevin Gramlich.

It could also endanger the lake’s status as part of the Atlantic Flyway for millions of migratory birds.

“We have migratory ducks, tundra swans stop here, snow geese stop here on their way to and from their migrations,” Ellenberger said.

The water level, though, can’t be raised back until the dam is reinforced. That will likely cost at least several hundred thousand dollars, a cost the association can’t afford on its own. Though they had already been saving money for years specifically for this purpose, they had to spend about $50,000 of it to pay for emergency repairs after Hurricane Ida, according to Ellenberger.

“The real quandary we find ourselves in is that rock and a hard place. The regulation, which we certainly understand. They’re here to preserve human life,” said association member John Taylor. “The hard place is raising funds.”

It’s unclear how long fundraising will take. The association has launched a GoFundMe and is considering taking out loans from a bank or a stewardship program.

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