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Settlement Reached on the Catawba (NC/SC)

Posted: 08/15/2006
by Kevin Colburn

On August 11th, American Whitewater joined a group of 70 organizations, agencies, and individuals in signing a Settlement Agreement that will shape the management of the Catawba River for the next 30-50 years.  The agreement, marks the culmination of 3 years of studies and negotiations among a diverse group of stakeholders.  This effort included over 300 meetings – and the group logged nearly 58,000 hours and analyzed over 2,500 issues related to the river.

The signing of a settlement agreement is a major milestone but in many ways simply marks the beginning of a new phase of the dam relicensing process.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will now take up to two years to analyze the agreement and the interests of people not involved in the agreement.  Eighty-five entities participated in the negotiations, 15 of which chose not to endorse the final agreement for a variety of reasons.  These entities include one state and one federal agency that could mandate actions that could upset the balance reached in the agreement.  While they could do this, both agencies have indicated they foster significant support for the agreement and are working with Duke Power to reach an acceptable solution.

The benefits of the settlement agreement span the entire 220 mile long watershed.   “This may be the single most significant community planning event that has occurred in this river basin and the results are going to have a very positive impact on the river and communities along the river for decades to come,” stated Jeff Lineberger, hydro licensing manager for Duke Energy.  AW fully agrees. 

Benefits of the agreement include:

  • Additional Recreational Opportunities: New and enhanced public access areas will create more opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, camping and picnicking. Pre-scheduled water releases for recreational flows will create additional canoeing and kayaking opportunities.
  • More Land Available for Recreational Use: More than 2,500 acres of properties owned by Crescent Resources (part of Duke Energy) will be dedicated for public recreation and Crescent will offer state and local governments more than 3,400 additional acres at reduced prices. Duke Energy will also make $9.3 million to $12.3 million available to state agencies to purchase additional land for recreational uses (depending on the length of the new license granted by the FERC).
  • More Information Available on the Lakes and River: Reservoir levels (historical and near-term), water release times, generation schedules and maps to public access areas will be enhanced as a result of this agreement. Signs in English, Spanish and international symbols will provide additional safety information.
  • Lake Level Ranges: Lake level ranges have been established to protect municipal, industrial and power generation water intakes, as well as recreation and property owner interests.
  • Increased Aquatic Species Habitat: Higher flow releases will substantially increase aquatic habitat and will reintroduce consistent water flows to some parts of the river for the first time in nearly 100 years.
  • Water Quality: Under the agreement, Duke Energy will install new equipment to enhance the quality of water released from hydroelectric plants. Water released from these plants will contain increased dissolved oxygen levels which are intended to improve water quality and fish habitat
  • Water Supply Management: A new protocol will establish a basin-wide approach to reduce water use during drought situations. These conservation efforts apply to hydroelectric generation, water flows for recreation and public and industrial water system withdrawals. The goal is to manage the available water supply until rain returns reservoir water storage and groundwater to normal levels. Duke Energy and the Public Water System owners are also establishing a Water Management Group to jointly fund long-term initiatives that will improve water quantity and quality management across the basin.
American Whitewater is especially proud of our role in the restoration and enhancement of two reaches that contain class I-III+ whitewater suitable for a wide range of river enthusiasts.
Bridgewater Reach:  Downstream of Lake James lies a dam release class II whitewater run followed by a longer Class I float trip.  The river flows through a forested riparian area and offers an excellent summer boating resource for beginner and intermediate boaters.  As a result of the agreement:  paddlers and anglers will have 85 days annually on which they will have scheduled and predictable releases at desirable flows, 695 acres of riparian corridor will be protected from development, several new river access areas will be built (including a portage around a dangerous weir), public flow information will be improved, and money will be made available for additional habitat conservation activities.  For a more detailed summary:  http://www.dukepower.com/lakes/cw/summaries/james.pdf
 
Great Falls of the Catawba:   The remnants of the Great Falls of the Catawba have been dewatered since 1907, but in two years will begin flowing continuously.  The falls are actually class II-III rapids featuring some epic play waves, a beautiful and protected river corridor, interesting geology, and a lowland ecosystem uncommon among whitewater rivers.  As a result of the agreement the Falls will have a new base flow every moment of every day, as well as 22 days of sceduled boating flows on the long channel and 28 days on the short channel.  The Falls area will also be getting a new state park, significant land conservation, several river access areas, and new flow information.  We hope that all this will revitalize the Town of Great Falls, which have been great to work with on this issue.  For a more detailed summary:  http://www.dukepower.com/lakes/cw/summaries/gf_rocky_creek.pdf
In addition to these two reaches, additional recreational and environmental enhancements will be provided throughout the basin.  For more information on these areas, or to read the agreement AW signed: http://www.dukepower.com/lakes/cw/summaries.asp

Special Thanks:
Andrew Lazenby was our star volunteer on the Catawba Project.  Andew put in hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of hours of volunteer efforts into this project.  He attended countless meetings on our behalf, assisted with flow study organization on all river reaches, and did a superb job.  Soon he'll see his dream of a restored Great Falls come true! 
Maurice and Motty Blackburn represented the Carolina Canoe Club and were able to provide a level of dedication that we dream of having on other projects.  They partnered with AW to represent paddling interests across the basin, and were recognized at the signing ceremony for likely attending more meetings than any other stakeholder accept Duke - and totally as volunteers. 
Keen Footwear and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation provided significant financial support of our efforts on the Catawba River.  Keen continues to support our ongoing efforts to bring the agreement to fruition.

Organizations and individuals that signed the Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement include: Alexander County, N.C.; American Whitewater; Area II Soil & Water Conservation Districts; Bowater Incorporated; Burke County, N.C.; Caldwell County, N.C.; Carolina Canoe Club; Catawba County, N.C.; Catawba Indian Nation; Catawba Indian Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office; Catawba Lands Conservancy; Catawba Regional Council of Governments; Catawba Valley Heritage Alliance; Catawba-Wateree Relicensing Coalition; Centralina Council of Governments; Chester Metropolitan District; Citizen Bo Cash; Citizen Frank Hawkins; Citizen Joe Zdenek; Citizen Merlin Perry; Citizen Shirley Greene; Citizen Tim Mead; City of Belmont, N.C.; City of Camden, S.C.; City of Charlotte, N.C.; City of Gastonia, N.C.; City of Hickory, N.C.; City of Morganton, N.C.; City of Mount Holly, N.C.; City of Rock Hill, S.C.; Crescent Resources Inc.; Duke Energy; Duke Power Company LLC; Foothills Conservancy; Gaston County, N.C.; Great Falls Hometown Assn.; Harbortowne Marina; International Paper; Iredell County, N.C.; Kershaw County Conservation District; Kershaw County, S.C.; Lake James Homeowners; Lake Wateree Assn.; Lake Wylie Marine Commission; Lancaster County Water & Sewer; Lincoln County, N.C.; Lugoff-Elgin Water Authority; McDowell County, N.C.; Mecklenburg County, N.C.; Mountain Island Lake Assn.; Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission; N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Division of Water Quality, Division of Water Resources, Division of Parks and Recreation, and Division of Forest Resources);N.C. Wildlife Federation; N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; R and N Marina; S.C. Department of Archives and History; S.C. Department of Natural Resources; S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism; S.C. Wildlife Federation; South Carolina Electric & Gas – Wateree Steam Plant; Springs Global Industries; Town of Davidson, N.C.; Town of Great Falls, S.C.; Town of Valdese, N.C.; Trout Unlimited; Union County, N.C.; Wateree Homeowners Assn.; Western Piedmont Council of Governments; York County Culture and Heritage Commission; and York County, S.C.
 
Those not signing include: American Rivers; Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation; Clean Water S.C.; Citizen Cynthia Wood; Citizen Don Privett; Citizen John Carter; Citizen Sarah Williams; Lake James Environmental Groups; S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control; S.C. Coastal Conservation League; Town of Cornelius, N.C.; U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Western N.C. Alliance.
 
Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC


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Catawba Relicensing (SC)
The relicensing of a string of dams on the Catawba River could restore the Great Falls of the Catawba, and bring massive public benefits throughout the watershed.