Swan River, Bigfork Hydro (MT)

In 2002 AW signed a Settlement Agreement with project owner PacifiCorp and other parties (National Park Service, MFWP, Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce, Bigfork Whitewater Festival Organization, Bigfork Development Company, Flathead Lakers, and Flathead Whitewater Association) providing the public with new opportunties to enjoy the Swan River. Flows on the Wild Mile are affected by PacifiCorp's 6 MW Bigfork Hydroelectric Project (FERC No. 2652). Implementation and the first season of scheduled releases began in 2004.

Of particular interest to whitewater boaters, Article 411 of the license (PacifiCorp 104 FERC ¶ 62,059 [2003]) includes the following provisions:
a) access to the bypassed reach;
b) a minimum flow and other support for the annual Bigfork Whitewater Festival;
c) improvements to the Kearney Rapids boat launch;
d) improvements to Pacific Park;
e) a boater take out/access area near the powerhouse;
f) provisions for others to propose and fund recreation improvements on project lands;
g) a whitewater boating feasibility study for the bypassed reach (sceduled released on Wednesday evenings from July 1st to August 31st from 5 pm to 9 pm); and
h) new trails along the south shore of the bypassed reach.

Perhaps more importantly however are the conservation gains we secured in this agreement. The local community of Bigfork has the option to purchase 500 acres of non-project land along the river and reservoir with the goal of protecting water quality and wildlife habitat (grizzly bear). In addition increased instream flows below the dam were designed to enhance habitat conditions for bull trout and west slope cutthroat. The final outcome is an agreement PacifiCorp and the local stakeholders are proud to support.

Additional Background on Whitewater Releases

The hydropower project diverts flow out of the river between the diversion dam and the tailrace on what is one of the only Class IV whitewater runs in the Flathead River Valley. The run is roughly a mile-long and known locally as “The Wild Mile.” Generally, from early April to mid-June, Swan River inflow exceeds the project’s capacity to divert water, and adequate whitewater boating flows (approximately 800 to 1,500 cfs) are available in the river concurrent with normal project generation. However, during July and August, after the majority of the flow is diverted into the project, the remaining flow in the river is often insufficient to provide whitewater boating opportunities (i.e. less than 800 cfs). During the Bigfork Project relicensing, AW expressed a desire to evaluate the feasibility of providing whitewater boating releases in the bypass reach during the months of July and August.

The new license provides opportunities for whitewater boating on Wednesday evenings during the summer when inflow exceeds 800 cfs (in practice this means boating is generally available in the first 3 weeks of July). During the first three years of releases (2004, 2005, 2006), stakeholders agreed to collect information on boater use, user preference for days and times, operational and economic feasibility, ramping rates, potential fish stranding, and effects on water temperature. PacifiCorp completed a report on whitewater recreation in 2006 concluding that whitewater releases were highly valued by the community and had an indiscernible affects on aquatic resources, specifically on stream temperatures and fish stranding which did not occur in this high gradient reach.

Documents

Website: PacifiCorp Big Fork recreation website


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projects - Swan River, Bigfork Hydro (MT)

Title Name City
Thomas O'Keefe Seattle WA Details...
Kevin Colburn Missoula MT Details...
Matt Brake Whitefish MT Details...



Regions

Associated Rivers

high
01h11m

Events

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Calendar by Date by Title

July 2017

S M T W T F S
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Swan River Releases
5:00 pm -9:00 pm mst
800-800 cfs

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Swan River Releases
5:00 pm -9:00 pm mst
800-800 cfs

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Swan River Releases
5:00 pm -9:00 pm mst
800-800 cfs

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Swan River Releases
5:00 pm -9:00 pm mst
800-800 cfs

27
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Events
Swan River Releases Bigfork,MT runs 07/04/07 - 08/30/17, next 07/05/17
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