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West River Update (VT)

Posted: 04/16/2009
By: Kevin Colburn

By this time many paddlers are well aware that there will be no spring scheduled whitewater release on Vermont’s West River for the first time in decades.  For over four decades the spring West River releases have drawn over 1000 whitewater paddlers from around the region to Jamaica State Park to experience the rivers moderate rapids and scenic gorge.  The spring recreational releases had a proven and significant economic benefit to the region.


Paddlers are encouraged to keep an eye on the gage, as the Army Corps of Engineers is passing the natural flows through their dam more or less unchanged.  It is possible that rain could provide boatable flows throughout the spring.


Last year the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), who manage Ball Mountain Dam on the West River, announced that the late April releases would be moved several weeks earlier to a weekend in early April, when Jamaica State Park is closed.  The purpose of this scheduling change was to potentially improve downstream passage of migrating salmon smolt, which the state stocks upstream.  There is no monitoring data to indicate when the stocked smolt reach the reservoir, if they reach the reservoir at all, and if they have historically had any problem passing through the dam.  It is thus possible that rescheduling the spring releases will have no benefit to salmon whatsoever.  The decision follows a decade long trend of reducing and threatening to eliminate the spring releases.  


During significant discussions last fall and this winter, paddlers proposed a release date in May after the migration period and also proposed delaying rain storm flow events a day or two in order to occur on weekends to benefit paddling use.  In January we were told that releases could not be provided between April 15 and June 15, and that the resource agencies did not approve the concept of slightly delaying natural events.  Then, in a surprise announcement made the last week of March, the ACOE announced that they would provide the releases mid-week from April 6-10.  Immediate calls to the ACOE from the paddling community were not returned. Then in another surprise the ACOE provided the releases on April 1 with no notification made to the paddling community.  All of these decisions were made unilaterally without consulting with the paddling community.


Paddlers fully support the goal of restoring Atlantic salmon to the West River.  We are however deeply frustrated by the poor communication from the ACOE which has had major impacts to recreational enjoyment of the river they manage.  We are also concerned that decisions are being made that impact river recreation outside of any formal decision making process, and without any data from the West River whatsoever.  It is likely that the smolt migration period, if known, could be avoided while still providing spring releases.  We feel that solutions exist that can support salmon recovery, flood control, and whitewater boating.  We will continue to advocate for good communication and good decision making based on good data.  


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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West River (VT)

Paddlers have long enjoyed and defended the few recreational releases on Vermont's West River. New hydro proposals may offer opportunities or impacts.

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