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Midwest Hydro Successes

Posted: 06/26/2004
By: Thomas O'Keefe & Angie Tornes

American Whitewater and Affiliate Clubs in partnership with National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program

The Rivers & Trails Program coordinated flow studies for each of the following relicensings and made flow recommendations that AW supported. The Rivers and Trails Program works across the country with community groups and local and State governments to conserve rivers, preserve open space, and develop trails and greenways. As one component of their overall mission, they provide assistance and guidance in hydropower licensing proceedings where they make recommendations on recreational access and facilities, in-stream flows for recreation, and riparian corridor and conservation buffer zone protection-in short providing and protecting the recreational and scenic opportunities that we all enjoy on our nation's waterways. Working in close partnership with AW since the Midwest's first flow study on the Pine River in 1991, the Rivers and Trails Program has assisted us in obtaining significant benefits for whitewater recreation through the FERC licensing process.

schedules subject to change, check for updates

Black River (WI), Hatfield Dam
FERC PROJECT 10805, License Expires 2037

When a flood event blew out the canal to the powerhouse, boaters enjoyed dependable spring boating through the 1990's. The May 1995 flow study for a new license unexpectedly evolved into a flotilla of 45 people. Releases are scheduled for the third Saturday of each month through the summer, water dependent. Call Midwest Hydraulic's flow hotline (1.888.HYDROWI OR 1.888.493.7694) to check flow status. As an additional condition of the license, company-owned wooded land along the river has been incorporated into the project boundaries for the benefit of wildlife and to protect the scenic character of the run.

A great surf wave at the put-in for the Black River.

Chippewa River (WI), Jim Falls
FERC PROJECT 2491, License Expires 2033

A new white water opportunity on the Chippewa R. at Jim Falls started in July of 2003. Summer releases are scheduled for the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of July and the 2nd Saturday and the 3rd Sunday in August. A new put-in and take-out is being developed here. In addition, higher, steady flows for flat water boating will be provided downstream of the Dells dam in Eau Claire.

Menominee River (WI/MI), Little Quinnesec
FERC PROJECT 2536, License Expires 2037

A 1993 whitewater flow study took place on Pier's Gorge which is directly downstream of this hydro project. The real story of this relicensing was the landmark Wilderness Shores Settlement Agreement. This negotiated settlement affects eight projects in the Menominee River watershed. For Pier's Gorge the settlement resulted in higher and steadier flows (1000 cfs minimum) released from the dam, particularly on weekends. Additional benefits include new access near the dam and improved flow information for recreational users (flow phone 715.251.8230). Coupled with all these changes are improvements in water quality thanks to the Clean Water Act and the efforts of the local paper company. What was once a river paddlers often passed over due to the erratic flows and burning eyes you'd feel after a run, is now one of the midwest's most dependable and popular big-water play runs.

Playing in the Sisters on the Menominee

Ontonagon, West Branch (MI), "Vicki"
FERC PROJECT 1864, License Expires 2043

The West Branch of the Ontanagon River offers a challenging mile plus of rapids in the normally dewatered reach downstream of Victoria Falls Dam. There is a guaranteed minimum flow of 350 cfs April through June though in the earlier part of the season, natural flows will commonly exceed this making for a rare big-water opportunity in the UP (Rivers & Trails was not involved in this project.).

Paint River, Horse Race Rapids (MI)
PROJECT 2072, License Expires 2040

Higher, steady flows are available that accommodate white water boating on the Paint River in the western UP (trib to Brule/ Menominee). Call WE Energies flow hotline during the season at 906.779.2518; it also reports flow levels for the Pine River. A new put-in, take-out, and primitive camping site will be developed here.

A fun playspot on the Paint

Peshtigo River (WI)
PROJECT 2522, License Expires 2037

Run-or-river flows in the Spring Rapids Section (class I-II) which is below Johnson Falls Dam. This section is far downstream from the popular Roaring Rapids section. For flow levels, check their flow hotline at 1.800.236.7341. Additional improvements were made to the road to put-in as well as the access sites at the put-in and take-out.

Pine River (northeast WI), Pine Dam:
PROJECT 2486, License Expires 2025

The Pine River project was the first Midwest project in which AW intervened and was the site of the region's first whitewater flow study. This 1991 study took place on a very short (0.25 mile) class IV bypass reach in Florence County. AW formally requested dam removal of this marginally economic project located on a designated State Wild River. While in the end neither removal nor scheduled releases were established as license conditions, the stage was set for future successes. A few years later the project was included in a settlement agreement that potentially calls for dam removal in 2025. In the meantime, a new and much shorter portage route has been constructed on the south side of the dam. A hotline was installed, 906.779.2518, which provides total flow information for those who want to paddle above or below the project, and provides flow information for the bypass reach. Continued operation of the USGS gauge was also made a license condition.

St. Louis River (MN), Thompson Dam
FERC PROJECT 2363, License Expires 2025

This 1992 study took place near Cloquet and consisted mostly of University of Minnesota-Duluth Kayak and Canoe Club members/staff. Flows in the bypass reach were increased from 25 cfs to 350 cfs which now benefits white water instruction, intermediate boaters, and aesthetics. Higher flows along with several events are planned through 2004. Through the coming year AW will be working with local boaters to explore opportunities for releases with a range of flows. A flow survey will be conducted later in 2004 and the results will be used to better understand the minimum acceptable and optimum flows for this reach. The flow hotline number is 800.582.8529 or 720.2777 in the Duluth area.

Sturgeon River (MI)

This river, enters the Menominee River about 7 miles downstream of Piers Gorge. As part of the Wilderness Shores Settlement Agreement this dam is currently slowly being removed. Historic photos of this reach show promise for a new whitewater run but the removal project won't be completed until sometime around 2007 or 2008.

Before the dam on the Sturgeon was built, 1922

Tearing down the Sturgeon Dam

Wisconsin River (WI) ,at Rhinelander
PROJECT 2161, Expires 2033

Releases on Pelican Rapids in the middle of downtown Rhinelander, WI are coordinated locally by Northern Paddle and Trail in conjunction with AW. Pelican Rapids provide a third of a mile of continuous whitewater of class II and III. Local volunteers have secured secured permission from the WI DNR to enact riverbed modifications to improve the features here for play and river running and are currently developing a site which could easily equal the established and well known whitewater course further down the Wisconsin River at Wausau.

Playing in Smokestack Hole on the Pelican Rapids section.

Many rivers were relicensed before AW and the Rivers and Trails hydro programs were initiated, but their turn will come again. Keep an eye on the following projects. AW does not have the resources to act without the commitment of local paddlers and we depend heavily on the efforts of our volunteers.

Wisconsin River, Grandfather Falls
PROJECT 1966, Expires 2018

Issue: Flows
The bypass reach is nearly always dewatered but when it roars to life one can find some of the most impressive big water rapids in the entire region. This run has potential to emerge as the best dam release run in the region but we'll just need to wait patiently for it's turn to come. In the meantime there may be an opportunity for a local volunteer to explore opportunities to improve information transfer between the utility and the paddling community.

Grandfather Falls: It would be a great run with water

Red River, Gresham
PROJECT 2484, Expires 2018

Issue: Flows, Access, Potential Removal
This is one of the most popular beginner runs for paddlers from southern Wisconsin and it can be enjoyed even with very minimal flow. The Weed Dam is the dam right at the put-in and the impoundment it creates has been experiencing serious dissolved oxygen problems associated with Eurasian Milfoil. Dam removal is a possibility and this would expose the dells of the Red River, a short canyon section that has been hidden to whitewater paddlers.

The Red: One of Wisconsin's best beginner runs

West Branch Montreal River, Gile Flowage
Saxon Falls, FERC PROJECT 2610, expires 2019
Superior Falls, FERC PROJECT, expires 2024

Issue: Flows
This river, the site of the National Wildwater Championships in 1992 and the PanAm races in the early '80's, has a dam but does not have a FERC license. It's still a great run in the spring when the reservoir spills, but keep an eye on this one for future possibilities to negotiate recreational releases. This reservoir is used to regulate flows for two hydro projects downstream and an opportunity could emerge to address releases from this reservoir.

What you can do to maintain our current level of success

Support AW!
While we have many important coalition partners in every relicensing in which we participate, remember that AW is the only organization working at the local and national level to protect and preserve whitewater recreational opportunities on rivers subject to dam regulated flows. Your membership and donations directly support our staff, but volunteer contributions are important too. Every set of eyes and ears helps.

Write a Letter to Congress (an action item that will make an impact right now)
While AW will continue our ongoing efforts in DC to educate members of Congress on the importance of the Rivers and Trails hydro assistance program, there's nothing like a letter from a constituent illustrating a personal example of how this program has directly benefited your opportunities for outdoor recreation with its associated economic benefits. All of these projects and many others around the country have directly benefited from Rivers and Trails staff involvement. Let your Congressional representatives know how important this program is.

Stay informed
There are two great ways that you can stay informed. The Hydropower Reform Coalition publishes a regular email newsletter-Running Waters. Contact the HRC <> for additional information. This newsletter gives you all the important news on what's happening in Congress along with actions you can take that make a difference. In addition, the FERC website now offers some great new tools to help you stay informed. The eLibrary allows you to conduct research on hydro projects and follow the licensing process. All projects are referenced by their number, known as the docket number. A new eSubscription service also allows you to stay informed without having to remember to check the FERC website. Just subscribe to lists for specific projects that you want to follow-you will receive an email anytime a new filing is made with a link to the website where you can read it. With staff trying to follow hundreds of projects across the country, local volunteers have the ultimate responsibility to make sure nothing falls through the cracks and subscribing to FERC notices is a great way to do that.

Associated Projects

Brooke Lynch

Eiusmod quia occaeca

Jim Falls (WI)

AW has advocated for restoration of recreational opportunities on the Chippewa River impacted by the Jim Falls Hydro Project.

Pine River

American Whitewater has long advocated for the removal of the Pine Dam and Hydroelectric Project to restore a free-flowing river.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!