Coming Soon: Reliable Whitewater Paddling at Turners Falls (MA)
Regular summertime whitewater releases will finally be coming to the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, thanks to years of negotiations during the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing of the Turners Falls hydropower dam.
This Spring, American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, New England FLOW and rafting outfitters signed a whitewater agreement that is now being finalized through a comprehensive settlement agreement and ultimately a new 50-year FERC license, guaranteeing reliable whitewater releases in the popular river reach below Turners Falls dam, previously only runnable when the river flow exceeded the capacity of the hydropower dam in the early Spring.
“Weekend whitewater releases are finally coming to the community of Turners Falls!” said Bob Nasdor, Northeast Stewardship & Legal Director with American Whitewater. “After working collaboratively with the rafting outfitters and the local community, paddlers will soon be able to enjoy this popular river section all year long including well-known features like Rock Dam.”
Announced as an Agreement In Principle addressing whitewater boating, recreation, and fish and flow concerns, American Whitewater and other stakeholders collaborated with the hydropower dam owner, FirstLight Power, to require flows that offer paddling opportunities throughout the Spring season, five special whitewater release weekends during the Summer and Fall, and flows every weekend during the Summer and Fall that support whitewater boating and through paddling on the Connecticut River in Turners Falls.
“The nearly dry river at Turners Falls will finally be brought back to life with paddlers and wildlife, with regular weekend flows from 2,500 cfs to 6,000 cfs throughout the boating season,” said Bob Nasdor. “Returning waters to river is exactly why American Whitewater and Appalachian Mountain Club spend so much time in the hydropower licensing process.”
Deerfield rafting outfitter Crab Apple Whitewater celebrated the new agreement, saying “Crab Apple is grateful to have worked with this passionate coalition and is excited for the future of whitewater boating on the Connecticut River. These new opportunities to paddle a section of whitewater in the previously de-watered Turners Falls bypass will bring both individual and commercial craft to the river.”
"It is gratifying to have successfully worked in collaboration with the other stakeholders on an agreement that will help return water to the river and increase outdoor recreation in western Massachusetts. This is a beautiful section of river to enjoy and share with the community." said Janet Cowie, Zoar Outdoor.
The FERC relicensing process is a long and time-consuming process, and the Connecticut River relicensings are now in their 10th year. After years of engagement in the process, paddlers are now poised to secure 50 years of whitewater paddling under a new federal license. In addition to restoring flows, the agreement also improves river access and provides public notification of flows.
The whitewater agreement at Turners Falls on the Connecticut River, once finalized by FERC in the new license, will include:
Spring flows ranging from 3,500 to 6,000 cfs that support fish spawning and passage as well as whitewater boating;
One weekend a month from July-September and two weekends in October with flows up to 5,000 cfs;
Flows of 2,500 cfs every single weekend, from July through October;
Upgraded put-in and take-out access at multiple locations, including a new trail at Rock Dam;
Improved online notification information of flow, spilling and hydropower operations.
American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, New England FLOW, rafting outfitters, local communities and other stakeholders also developed myriad other recreation improvements such as new hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing trails and protections, as well as new and enhanced campsites along the Connecticut River, which will be official once a Settlement Agreement and FERC license is issued.