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Gauley Whitewater Advisory Group Meets

Posted: 12/20/2012
by Charlie Walbridge

On December 19th I represented American Whitewater at the annual meeting of their Whitewater Advisory Committee for Summersville Dam . The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the project, has worked closely with whitewater interests for many years. After whitewater was declared a project purpose of the dam in the early 80's the Corps worked closely with commercial and private paddlers to make the famous Gauley Season run smoothly. Their management plan takes into account both lake and downstream recreation (and their associated businesses) as well as lake and downstream fisheries, power generation, flow augmentation, and several other matters.

Summersville Lake is a popular among powerboaters, fishermen, and divers and their needs are balanced against ours. The Corps plans to keep the lake accessible to powerboats until the second weekend in September. Some years ago the Corps developed a computer model of the Summersville Project to experiment with various flow regimes. They found that summer whitewater releases lowered the lake levels unreasonably. They've used this same model to manage water in dry years to improve the reliability of Gauley Releases.

This year's Gauley Releases were very successful. All occurred as planned and no fatalities were reported. Next year the Corps is planning a "deep drawdown" of Summersville Lake to inspect dam infrastructure. This means that continuous flows of 2800 cfs or more are very likely for last two weeks in September. We will have more information when it becomes available. The Corps has an extended release forecast and are looking into ways to make it available to the whitewater public. Next year's Gauley releases will start the second weekend of September (the 6th through 9th) and run for six weeks. There will also be a "bonus" release the Sunday following Bridge Day.

A bit of bad news: Didymo, or Rock Snot, has been found in the river as far as the mouth of the Meadow. This organism forms large "mats" which crowd out the organisms the fish feed on. Since the fall whitewater releases broke these mats apart the Corps is planning to experiment with different release patterns and water temperatures to fight the infestation. The work will be monitored closely with temperature gauges and on-site observation. Gauley paddlers are advised to take the usual precautions when moving from this river to those which are not yet infested. The Corps also works closely with the West Virginia DNR to monitor fish populations above and below the dam, and is researching the genetic background of the largest Walleyes in the lake. They are, not surprisingly, descended from fish native to the area.

Meadow River paddlers take note: The USGS Mount Lookout gauge at the mouth of the Meadow River has been plagued with maintenance problems and vandalism because of its isolated location. It will be replaced in 2013 by a gauge at Nallen, some distance upstream. They will run both gauges in tandem from January 1 to October 1 of next year, at which point the Mount Lookout gauge will be removed. This should give paddlers time to develop useful correlation's. The Corps is also working with the USGS to install a new gauge in Charleston to more accurately gauge levels on the Kanawha River in town and more accurately determine the need for flow augmentation from the Bluestone and Summersville Reservoirs in low water. This will help conserve water and protect late levels and downstream flows at both sites.

In closing, the Corps expressed appreciation for the professionalism of American Whitewater and the importance to them of having an organization to represent the diverse private whitewater paddling community. As your representatives we have a 30+ year history of involvement in Gauley River issues and relationships with key stakeholders. Anyone with comments or suggestions about Gauley Season from a private paddler's perspective should email me at ccwalbridge@cs.com.

Charles Walbridge
Bruceton Mills, WV