On Friday American Whitewater filed an appeal of the State of West Virginia’s flow and access prescriptions for the spectacular New River Dries. The State’s prescriptions would only restore an average of 3 or 4 days of flows sufficient for paddling as mitigation for the over 240 days lost to hydropower operations. In addition the state would require access 1.2 miles into the 5.4-mile run, foreclosing vehicle-based access on 22% of the run. The prescriptions will last for 30 to 50 years unless our appeal is successful.
The New River Dries are immediately downstream of the New River Gorge National River, managed by the National Park Service, and in many ways rival the Park in scenery. The river has vast potential for whitewater paddling, angling, and ecological recovery. The only problem is that the Dries have been virtually dewatered by the Hawks Nest Hydroelectric Project for a century. Our appeal aims to change that.
American Whitewater has participated in the federal relicensing of the Hawks Nest Hydro Project for the past few years, including assisting with the whitewater flow study and pitching several proposals for flow restoration. The power company refused our request for collaboration because the State of West Virginia was not actively engaged at the time. Federal regulators had proposed 15 annual releases and were considering our proposal for an average of roughly twice that many releases in a natural pattern with concessions to the power company. Unfortunately the State prescriptions likely trump the federal process.
The State’s decision is a senseless and needless wasted opportunity to restore a great river. Opportunities exist to restore significant flows with very little impact on other stakeholders. Our most recent proposal would better meet the State’s mandate to ensure the “ultimate development” of recreational resources at private dams like Hawks Nest in a manner consistent with the primary purpose of the dams. The State will now consider our appeal and decide whether or not to grant us a hearing. The hearing could initiate a longer process of deciding whether or not to grant our request for better flows and access, hopefully through initiating long overdue collaborative conversations among all stakeholders. Denial of a hearing would leave us with the choice of litigating or letting the state prescriptions stand.
American Whitewater is seeking pro bono legal assistance by an attorney or firm capable of working in West Virginia. If you or someone you know fit this description and might be willing to help, please have them contact kevin(at)americanwhitewater(dot)org as soon as possible.