Water levels remain low at Mosquito Creek Reservoir, and an official there said there's little that can be done.
"Ultimately, we didn't really have a winter, which is where we get our precipitation to fill it back up, then the real hot summer and drought conditions didn't help," Mosquito Lake State Park Ranger Eric Schreckengost said.
Gwen Bare of Warren, left, her husband, Jim, and friend Donna Borton of Niles fish a good distance from the shoreline Monday afternoon at Mosquito Creek Reservoir. Water levels remain low at the reservoir.
Schreckengost said the reservoir's primary mission is to reduce flood damage, which, he pointed out, has not been an issue this summer. Low flow augmentation, however, has been, and water supply, a fundamental purpose of the reservoir, has also become an issue.
Schreckengost said the park is contracted to provide the city of Warren with up to 16 million gallons of water per day, though he said the city rarely uses that much.
But the reservoir's management team, which is predominantly run by the Army Corps of Engineers, has to ensure that if the levels drop, the waterways flowing from Mosquito continue to flow.
By the numbers
(Feet above sea level)
Lowest on record, 1953890.63
7:30 p.m. Monday895.46
Optimum summer level 900.73
Mosquito is one of 16 reservoirs in a 20,000-square-mile area across parts of five states, including eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, southwest New York, northeast West Virginia and northwest Maryland.
Every day, a team of hydrologists looks at the flow of the three major rivers, Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny, and the lake levels. From that, they determine how much each dam needs to let out to keep the rivers navigable and keep the creek levels up in the Mahoning River and Beaver Creek and similar tributaries for fish and game needs.
Schreckengost said this year all three reservoirs in eastern Ohio are hurting and have still had to maintain their release quotas.
The three main reservoirs, Mosquito, Berlin and Kirwan, have a certain amount of water they have to release, but the rotation schedules and level considerations are designed not to place excessive burdens on any one lake. This year, however, that burden has been difficult to avoid.
Berlin has dropped from 1,014.9 feet above sea level on July 31, to 1,009.8 feet above sea level on Monday. As Schreckengost pointed out, the Corps has to drain water from Berlin to keep Lake Milton up, just as Mosquito maintains the Mahoning River and Beaver Creek. Michael J. Kirwan Lake has dropped by nearly a foot from 976.49 feet to 975.59 feet above sea level.
While Mosquito Lake's current level of 895.46 feet, as of 7:30 p.m. Monday, is not the lowest, it isn't off by far. The lowest level on record was 890.63 feet above sea level in 1953.
"We really just need a lot of precipitation. There's not really anything we can do to fill it back up," Schreckengost said. "It's been like a Bermuda Triangle up here as far as rain goes, it just goes right around us."
Unlike the Corps, the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District has no contracts to release any water from Meander Reservoir. As a result, the reservoir remains constant. At this time last year, Sept. 19, 2011, the reservoir was at 903.1 feet. As of Monday, it stood at 902.3 feet. Though it's roughly 9.5 inches and roughly 1 billion gallons lower, it is not the same dramatic drop that Berlin, Kirwan and Mosquito have suffered.
Mahoning Valley Sanitary District Chief Engineer Tom Holloway also credits the favorable precipitation in that part of the Valley.
"Rain falls at different levels in different areas, and if you look at the precipitation levels, we're above normal by about 2 inches," he said.
Holloway said precipitation is not all that is necessary to rebuild water levels. He said soil conditions also play a role in determining how much rain water makes its way into the lakes.
If the ground is dry and it absorbs the rain, most of that will not make its way back into the lake. But if the ground is sufficiently saturated, or even if it is too dry, and there is a lot of runoff, it could only take a month with the right amount of rainfall to rebuild lakes like Berlin and Mosquito, he said. Groundwater is also a factor and he said it has been credited for refilling or maintaining lakes during dry spells.
"When we're not getting a lot of rainfall and we remain constant, we assume ground water is what's keeping our levels up," he said.