State Clears Way for New Catawba River Dam License & Releases (NC/SC)

Posted: 02/16/2015
By: Kevin Colburn

Last week the State of South Carolina issued the final permit that Duke Energy needed before the federal government could issue them a new license for operating their dams.  With a new license now expected sometime this year, paddlers can start gearing up for some big changes in the Catawba Watershed including new conservation opportunities, access areas, water releases, and stream gages.  

American Whitewater was one of 70 groups that spent several years negotiating a proposal for the new federal dam license.  We signed a Settlement Agreement on July 26, 2006, and were hopeful that a new license would follow within a couple years.  Conflicts erupted though and the permitting process was delayed for nearly a decade.  With those conflicts settled, a new license is imminent and exciting projects will begin implementation this year with the rollout lasting for years to come.  

So what can paddlers expect? 

  • Recreational releases, access trails, and base flows in the big water Class III Great Falls of the Catawba. AW played a leadership role in envisioning and negotiating the restoration of the Great Falls. Get ready for some sweet freestyle paddling when Great Falls returns after 100 years of being dewatered.    
  • Enhanced access and scheduled flows on the Class I and II reaches below Bridgewater, Oxford, Wylie, and Wateree dams. These releases are already up and running.  The Bridgewater reach has some Nantahala style rapids, great water quality, and very few people.
  • A new online USGS stream gage and a lower access area on Wilson Creek. This will be great for Wild and Scenic Wilson Creek paddlers. 
  • Over $3 Million for land and water conservation + $4 Million for recreational enhancements + 1255 acres of land protected.
  • Improved water quality and quantity below all dams, benefitting over 100 river miles. 
  • A total of 89 recreational access enhancements for paddling, fishing, swimming and other river uses.  

Some of these enhancements are already underway, others will start this year, and still others will take a few years to get to.  The whitewater mitigation like Great Falls flows and the Wilson Creek gage are scheduled for the first 5 years following the license issuance, and Duke Energy consistently impresses us with how fast they get projects like these completed.

American Whitewater will be an active partner in rolling out these enhancements.  There will be planning meetings to attend, monitoring plans to create and review, trails to help lay out, and plenty more to do.  If you like this work, remember to support AW.  We'd like to thank our key Catawba volunteer Andrew Lazenby, Carolina Canoe Club, Duke Energy, and the many other partners we are working with on this project. 

Check out the 2004 flow study video for a taste of the Great Falls!


Associated Projects

Catawba Relicensing (SC)

The relicensing of a string of dams on the Catawba River could restore the Great Falls of the Catawba, and bring massive public benefits throughout the watershed.

Associated Rivers


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