Decision Reached on Restoration of the New River Dries! (WV)
River enthusiasts will soon have new paddling opportunities on West Virginia's New River. Federal regulators issued a new 47-year license for the dam that dewaters the spectacular 5.5-mile New River Dries in the final days of 2017. The license requires significant new recreational and environmental enhancements in a river reach that has suffered from water withdrawals for well over half a century. American Whitewater played an active and leading role in securing these outcomes. The hallmarks of the new federal license include:
- Increases in the minimum stream flow from 100cfs to flows ranging from 150 to 300cfs depending on the season. While a small increase, this measure will significantly increase the quantity and quality of aquatic habitat.
- Nine new scheduled whitewater releases each year: two in March and seven in July and August. These flows will offer scenic Class III+ paddling opportunities and restore important natural flow variability that will benefit river organisms.
- A new 1-3 day online flow prediction service for the Dries, as well as ongoing funding of a stream gage. This measure will help paddlers take advantage of the nearly 80 days annually when sufficient water spills over the dam to support paddling, and improve safety for all visitors to the Dries.
- River access improvements at the Cotton Hill Bridge put in, which will serve as the primary put in and trailhead for paddlers.
- A new portage trail around the Hawks nest Dam, which will allow paddlers to launch upstream at the confluence of Mill Creek and portage into the Dries.
- A new public take out to meet the long-term recreational needs of paddlers.
The dam owner is required to consult with American Whitewater and outfitters and submit formal plans for providing releases and access within six months. Releases are to begin immediately upon approval of the plans by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, likely in 2019. As with any federal decision, appeals could cause delays.
American Whitewater sought significant improvements on this beautiful stretch of river at every stage of the multi-year relicensing effort. This effort was made extremely challenging because a nearby alloy manufacturing plant relies upon the unusual frequency of power the dam generates. When the State of West Virginia mandated only three whitewater releases we appealed, and secured an additional six days of releases in the state permit. Unfortunately, under intense political pressure to keep the New River dry by federal lawmakers, the FERC chose not to require releases in addition to those required by the state. If someday the alloy plant no longer needs the power, the flow regime will be reconsidered.
While not the grander outcome we had hoped for, the new license will usher in a new and much better era on the New River Dries. Paddlers will enjoy nine new releases, improved access, and much better flow information. Summer releases will likely draw intermediate paddlers from around the region, and paddlers will take advantage of spring flows more often. The higher base flows and pulse flows should be great for aquatic health and the fishing should improve. There will be improved hiking opportunities, and climbers will enjoy the new access areas too. American Whitewater staff will be actively involved in the planning for releases over the next year and beyond. Thanks to all the paddlers who got involved in this project and who supported our work on it. And a special thank you to Bobby Bower who spoke up for the river's commercial rafting potential. See you all on the river!