Paddlers Request Inclusion In Ocoee Talks (TN)
The decades-old agreements between rafting outfitters and the Tennessee Valley Authority that provide for recreational water releases in the Upper and Middle Ocoee River will expire in 2018. TVA and the outfitters have been attempting to negotiate a new agreement for many months, and thus far no agreement has been reached. This week, American Whitewater and several regional affiliate clubs requested inclusion in those talks to represent our interests in the Ocoee River continuing to be a recreational treasure and economic boon to the region.
The current agreements are contracts under which the public (rafting customers) pays a federal agency (TVA) to release publicly owned water from publicly owned dams. This backwards approach exists only on the Ocoee. American Whitewater does not believe the public should be forced to pay our government for water in rivers.
Federal agencies have estimated that Ocoee River water is worth 30 times more in the river than in the TVA’s diversion pipes and hydropower stations. As an agency with an economic development mission, TVA should be putting the Ocoee River’s water to its highest and best use – in the river – free of charge. The Ocoee River is the economic lifeblood of the region, and has the potential to support additional growth in the outdoor recreation economy and way of life. The current releases should be continued for years to come.
Decisions on the Ocoee River’s water releases affect hundreds of thousands of regional citizens, and should be made in a transparent manner with ample opportunities for public input. Thus far they have been handled as bilateral contract negotiations, instead of a major federal action similar to a National Forest plan or dam relicensing. One of American Whitewater’s goals will be to ensure transparency and a good public process in which all citizens can participate.
We look forward to working with TVA, outfitters, paddlers, and regional businesses to create something great on the Ocoee.