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Upper Nantahala Releases to Begin This Fall!

Posted: 06/12/2012
by Kevin Colburn

The first ever scheduled recreational releases on the upper Nantahala River will occur on Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30, 2012, near Wesser, North Carolina.  Duke Energy will release water from the dam at Nantahala Lake into the upper Nantahala.  These releases are in addition to the more typical releases from the Nantahala powerhouse into the popular lower Nantahala River.  The releases were negotiated by AW and a diverse group of local and regional stakeholders between 2001 and 2003 to mitigate the recreational impacts of flow reductions associated with operation of the powerhouse. 

Beginning in 2013 there will be eight annual release days on the Upper Nantahala: one weekend in late April, four summer evenings, and one late September weekend.

The Upper Nantahala consists of two distinct whitewater runs.  The uppermost section is known as the Cascades, and offers advanced and expert paddlers a relatively short Class IV/V descent over numerous waterfalls and slides. The Cascades are a highly technical river corridor that is not well suited for large groups or paddlers without the prerequisite skills and equipment.  It is recommended that Cascades paddlers be comfortable on other Class IV/V local rivers such as:

·        Wilson Creek

·        North Fork of the French Broad

·        Tallulah

·        Upper Tellico

·        Cheoah

The section from the base of the Cascades to the powerhouse is generally referred to as the Upper Nantahala and offers intermediate to advanced paddlers a longer Class III/IV descent.  This section is best suited for levels above 400cfs. There are no opportunities to commercially raft these reaches. 

The flow schedule for the weekend will be as follows:

  • Saturday:          300cfs (Optimal Cascades flow) from 10am to 5pm
  • Sunday:            425cfs (Optimal Upper Nantahala flow) 10am to 3pm
  • Sunday:            250cfs (Standard Cascades flow) 3pm to 5pm.

Parking is severely limited along the entire Upper Nantahala.  The US Forest Service has designated several pull-offs for boat loading and unloading only, and for the first release the Nantahala Outdoor Center and Endless River Adventures have generously offered to provide shuttles.  Use of the shuttles, carpooling, shuttle drivers, patience, and willingness to paddle to a downstream location will be greatly appreciated.  Parking off the roadway in legitimate and safe locations that do not impede travel for those living upstream will be enforced. More information will follow.  Due to the limited roadside parking along the Upper Nantahala, those wishing to run laps on the Cascades should plan on hiking the short half-mile back to the put-in from the take-out bridge.

About American Whitewater’s Role In These Releases

From 2001 through 2003 American Whitewater participated in an innovative negotiation process to decide the future operations of the dams on the Nantahala and Tuckagegee. AW staff attended full-day meetings at least once a month for 3 years and spent countless hours analyzing and assisting with studies. We focused our efforts on whitewater paddling mitigation, the design of an environmental enhancement fund, and the removal of Dillsboro Dam on the Tuckasegee. We worked closely with other stakeholders including our volunteers, the Carolina Canoe Club, local outfitters, Duke Power, and state and federal agencies throughout the process. Based on three years of work and negotiations, AW signed a settlement agreement in 2003 calling for sweeping environmental and recreational enhancements in the Nantahala, Tuckasegee, and Little Tennessee watersheds. Since this time the relicensing has been held up at FERC (relating to delays in removing Dillsboro Dam on the Tuckasegee River). The dam was removed in 2010, and FERC issued the New License for the Nantahala Hydroelectric Project on February 8, 2012.


Associated Rivers

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Associated Projects

Nantahala Relicensing (NC)
AW has worked with regional stakeholders to relicense several dams on the Nantahala River and its tributaries since 2000.