The State of West Virginia today chose to pass on a major economic and environmental opportunity by issuing a water quality certificate for the Hawks Nest Hydroelectric Project that lacks vital restoration of flows to the New River Dries. The certification outlines certain mandatory conditions that must be adopted by Federal regulators for the forthcoming 30 to 50 year license. The certification requires the dam owner to release flows suitable for kayaking and rafting on an average of only 3 to 4 days each year. Without the dam in place such flows would be present on an average of 329 days each year, and such flows now occur relatively rarely and mostly in the winter months when water spills over the dam.
Earlier this year, American Whitewater proposed a solution that would have restored an annual average of 32 days of predictable flows suitable for paddling and ecological values. Under our proposal 1600cfs of flows would be reserved for generation at all times to ensure the industrial power consumer’s base needs were met. An annual average of 7 of our proposed releases would have no affect on the hydropower operations because they would coincide with times when the hydropower diversion is overwhelmed by high natural flows. Our proposal would have vastly greater ecological and recreational benefits when compared with the State’s certificate, would have created a new tourism product for the region, and was consistent with mitigation at other similar hydropower projects.
Stakeholders have 15 days to initiate an appeal of the State’s certificate, which could lead to significant changes. Federal regulators are still gathering vital information on how the hydropower project operates, and could issue a decision that improves upon (but does not conflict with) the new State requirements. The State’s decision marks a major setback and hurdle in restoring the New River Dries, but may not be the final word on how the river will be managed.
As we work with communities around the United States to restore rivers and rural economies severely impacted by hydropower dams, it is profoundly disappointing to witness a state passing up such an outstanding opportunity. The New River Dries, with its spectacular scenery, mild whitewater, and easy shuttle could become a classic and popular whitewater run, but only if there is enough water provided during the recreation season. American Whitewater will keep working towards a healthy and accessible New River Dries.