For decades, West Canada Creek from Middleville to Herkimer, N.Y., proved a reliable beginner/intermediate run with consistent water released from Hinckley Reservoir upstream. After a number of high water events a play spot formed near the end of the run above Kast Bridge.
In the summer of 2012, one of the driest on record, regular releases from upstream hydroelectric projects began to arrive at the whitewater section in the middle of the night instead of the late afternoon as they had traditionally. According to Brookfield Renewable, the utility that operates two of the upstream dams, this was due to limited water and demand from the New York State Canal Corporation, maintaining minimum flows and demands higher up in the reservoir, which is a water source for surrounding towns.
Brookfield is open to timing flows for whitewater boating when possible, and American Whitewater plans to get involved in the re-licensing process for the Trenton and Prospect projects to integrate whitewater releases into a new license.
The larger concern for paddlers, fishermen and others who care about West Canada Creek lies further upstream of the dams. In 1917, the State of New York and the predecessor to the Mohawk Valley Water Authority entered into an agreement allowing the water authority to siphon up to 75 cubic feet per second from Hinckley Reservoir upstream--up to nearly 50 million gallons per day.
The water authority has only taken about two-thirds of that amount due in part to limits on its water treatment plant. In 2002, the water authority applied to the state to expand its service area to include four additional towns. The move entangled the water authority and the state in litigation, and in the summer of 2012, the two entered into an interim settlement agreement.
The process has been devoid of public involvement, raising eyebrows among community groups and local lawmakers alike. American Whitewater and others are asking the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to consider recreational and environmental issues on West Canada Creek before approving a water supply permit that could further stress a river that is already stretched thin.
American Whitewater will continue to work with the utility and others to ensure West Canada Creek remains a valuable resource for paddlers, fishermen and the community as a whole.
As somewhat of an aside, the bypass reaches for the three dams below Hinckley Reservoir contain extremely steep gradient and may hold large, runnable waterfalls. Unfortunately, the utility has shut the section off to the public entirely. At this point, Brookfield appears uninterested in even considering the idea of paddling in this stretch. American Whitewater will continue to press the issue and hopefully allow for at the very least a study of the whitewater potential in these stretches.
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