AW Seeks Flow Restoration on the New River Dries (WV)
Immediately downstream of the New River Gorge, a beautiful 5.5-mile section of the New River has been dewatered for generations. Paddlers call this reach the New River Dries, and know it for the huge surf waves that form at high water. The Hawks Nest hydroelectric project removes 10,000cfs from the Dries, leaving only 100cfs except when high flows overwhelm the dam. The relicensing of the dam offers a once-in a lifetime opportunity to restore flows to the New River. American Whitewater filed comments today with federal regulators outlining our vision.
The dam owner originally proposed no flows to replace the natural summer base and pulse flows that their dam eliminates. In response to comments by American Whitewater and paddlers, the dam owner then proposed one 3-day weekend of releases. The dam owner also proposed to continue extremely low base flows, and to provide no river access at either end of the Dries.
American Whitewater conducted intensive analyses of the hydrology of the New River and has proposed an alternative that will restore some of the paddling opportunities and key ecological values eliminated by the dam. Key elements of the proposal include:
- 28 days of roughly 2,500 cfs releases in the June-October timeframe.
- Significantly higher base flows (boatable in early spring)
- Longer and year-round downramping of flows following big releases (which could help paddlers taking advantage of frequent winter and spring spill flows)
- Vehicle based river access at the put-in and take-out
- A role for paddlers in future decisions
- Flexibility to adapt flows to optimize their values in the future
At flows around 2,500cfs the New River Dries offers a highly scenic Class III whitewater run with ample play, lots of fun technical moves, and a short shuttle. Our proposal would be an outstanding improvement for the ecology of the river, and would support significant commercial and private paddling opportunities.
In our comments we also sought to address the connection between the hydropower project and an alloy plant that uses the unusual frequency of power it generates. We propose creative solutions that would help the plant modernize to reduce or eliminate its reliance on dewatering the New River to operate. We've pitched a win-win proposal, and in the coming months federal regulators will analyze our proposal in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement upon which paddlers will be invited to comment. Then a new license for the dam will be issued, and hopefully, the New River Dries will roar back to life.