Merrill Creek is a 620-acre reservoir in the uplands of Warren County, built in 1989 by a consortium of utility companies. In summer, Merrill Creek’s 15 billion gallons are used to replenish river water that evaporates cooling the 14 power plants located between here and Philadelphia. We visited on a recent Sunday afternoon.
It’s a peaceful spot and indstrial use was far from apparent, but thermoelectric plants are vorascois consumers of water, accounting for 49 percent of total water use nationwide, about 200 billion gallons of water per day – nearly three times the daily volume that roars over Niagra Falls!
As Diane and I kayaked across the open expanse of water, I felt a little jittery , wondering about the entrance to the 4 mile long tunnel to pipeline system connecting Merrill Creek with the Delaware. Trust me, it wasn’t a pleasant thought and I imagined myself being sucked into a gaping whirlpool like the one at Lake Berryessa, never to be seen again.
I kept these thoughts to myself as Diane enjoyed the sun and water, blissfully unaware of what lurked beneath. Her attention was focused on a group of 20 double-crested cormorants floating nearby.
We stayed far away from the damn, which is 280 feet high. There was a great deal of opposition to its construction, especially from familes living near the base. Who can blame them? In 1889, a much smaller 70-foot earthen damn failed, sending 4 billion gallons of water downstream, killing 2,200 people in the Johnstown Flood.
If you travel to Merrill Creek, be sure to take a ride on New Jersey’s first concete highway, a portion of today’s Rt. 57 that was orginally built in 1912 with cement from Thomas Edison’s nearby factory. For the histrory lover, be sure to visit the 1755 Shippen Manor , built by the family that owned and operated Oxford Furnace.