I just read an article about one of my favorite Pennsylvania haunts, Conejohela Flats in Lancaster Co. that made my day. Let me set the scene– Conejohela Flats is a series of muddy, sandy islands that sits in the Susquehanna River near Washington Boro. This section of the Susquehanna River is just upriver from the Safe Harbor Dam, and the owners of the dam have long been petitioning to raise the water levels, permanently flooding the flats and eliminating an important shorebird stopover location. Back in 1998, they were forced into a compromise that allowed me (and many others!) to do a lot of productive shorebirding in one of the few spots in Pennsylvania to do so. Basically the dam operators were allowed to raise the water levels outside of shorebird migration, but they had to maintain the water levels low enough during migration to guarantee that a certain area of the flats were above water for the shorebirds.
Move ahead to 2014 and the Safe Harbor dam operators again petitioned to raise water levels, this time successfully, which risked submerging the flats during the crucial migration months. Jerry Book, a local birder and one of the original people pushing to protect the flats in 1998, was once again instrumental in pushing back. With additional backing from the PA Game Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unexpectedly decided to reverse their decision to allow permanent higher water levels. Safe Harbor dam management will have to work to develop a new management plan that allows for keeping the flats exposed 6 months of the year now.
I have had some wonderful days birding the flats, from hot sunny July days with mostly Killdeer to stormy tropical storms that make you rethink whether you should be out on the water. I saw many lifers on the flats, from a flyover Hudsonian Godwit to my first Western Sandpipers and Red Knot in the state. I am glad to see that this spot will continue to function as valuable shorebird stopover habitat for the foreseeable future.
Original article – Shorebirds’ use of Lancaster County islands causes feds to reverse order over Safe Harbor Dam water level by Ad Crable.