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Improved Flow Releases Begin on Sullivan Creek (WA)

Posted: 09/03/2020
By: Kevin Colburn

Releases from Sullivan Lake will begin ramping Sullivan Creek flows up to boatable levels immediately following Labor Day next week, and will maintain elevated flows for much of the fall. Historic fall drawdown releases were modified to be earlier in the fall, colder, at lower flows, and to have a slower ramp-up through a 2010 Settlement Agreement that American Whitewater worked on extensively. These changes make the draw-down releases better for fish, better for paddling, and more valuable to downstream water users and the local utility and rate-payers. The removal of Mill Pond Dam required the negotiated flow schedule be delayed for several years following approval. With the dam now removed, the new flows will begin.

The flows are set to begin increasing next Tuesday at no more than 80 cfs per day, but there are strict limits on how much water temperatures can be raised each day which can in turn limit the amount of the flow released. A cold-water siphon installed several years ago in Sullivan Lake will mix cold water with warmer releases from near the top of the reservoir to reduce temperature changes in the Creek. Paddlers can watch the flow increase on the stream gage for the Sullivan Creek Gorge, and once the releases are up the river should flow more or less consistently for much of the fall unless rising stream temperatures require easing flows. We'll work to communicate any changes that are forecasted. The agreement includes a goal of at least three weekends of predictable flows in the 180-220 cfs range early in the season, which are ideal flows for paddling. The drawdown release should cease by November 15.

These releases are part of a complex negotiation over the fate Mill Pond Dam on Sullivan Creek, and Sullivan Lake Dam which raises the natural Sullivan Lake and releases into Outlet Creek (a short tributary of Sullivan Creek). Though a collaborative process, American Whitewater and others worked with the dam owners on creative win-win solutions to numerous challenges. It was decided that Mill Pond Dam, which had not generated power in a half-century, would be removed which successfully occurred in 2018 and 2019. Throughout the removal process flows from Sullivan Lake were used strategically to flush sediment from the Mill Pond Dam site, so normal releases were not possible. American Whitewater produced a film of the run-up to dam removal as well as a follow up film post-removal. With the dam out and the reservoir site stabilized, flows can now be returned in a more normal pattern.

The Sullivan Creek Gorge is a beautiful Class IV+/V- run through a rugged gorge that is prone to collect strainers. Last year there was quite a bit of wood. Bedrock and boulder rapids like Thumper and Itchy and Scratchy continue for much of the Gorge before culminating in a classic 8-foot falls with both a tricky lead in and a tricky drop below. It is certainly not for everyone, but for teams with the skills Sullivan Creek is like a little slice of British Columbia creeking with no border crossing required. If you visit Sullivan Creek this fall please be wary of wood, and be very considerate visitors to the small communities nearby given Covid-19. There is a small public take-out that we also worked to secure just downstream of the bridge. Enjoy, and be careful in there.

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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Sullivan Creek (WA)

Two dams in the Sullivan Creek watershed no longer generate power. One was removed in 2017 as the result of a 2010 Settlement Agreement.

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