Cheoah Flows to Get a Bump (NC)

posted October 11, 2017
by Kevin Colburn

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Paddlers might have noticed that flow releases on the Cheoah River were getting a bit skinny over the past couple years, until the juicy release this September. At the urging of American Whitewater, the dam owner had USGS come out and recalibrate the gage this July, and the results confirmed the dam owner had been under-releasing by approximately 100-150cfs. In our annual planning meeting last week, they committed to adjusting their releases to comply with their federal license, and actually began the new release protocols in September. 

The Federal license for the Cheoah River, which American Whitewater played a large role in negotiating, requires a series of roughly 20 releases from Santeetlah Dam each year of 1000cfs. Several side streams add small amounts of water to the river between the dam and the USGS gage near Bear Creek, so releases should measure significantly over 1000cfs on the gage. Paddlers should expect higher releases in the future than they might be used to.  

We also discussed in the meeting that paddling use was much lower than expected on Sundays in 2017. We'd like to remind paddlers that the flow schedule was improved a couple years ago, and now the river flows at 1000cfs from 8am to 2pm, and then 850 from 2pm to 4pm, for all Sunday releases April through November. Sundays are a great opportunity for paddlers to enjoy the full 1000cfs release in the morning, or wait for a lower water opportunity in the afternoon.

Last year, a total of 2,611 non-commercial paddlers bought wrist bands and enjoyed the Cheoah River. Graham County has been a great partner and supporter of the release program, and we encourage paddlers to explore and patronize local businesses while in the area. The local folks appreciate your business. 

One last thing. The upcoming 1-day November release occurs during hunting season and the take-out is a popular campground for hunters. You might want to consider camping at one of the great dispersed sites scattered along the shore of Santeetlah Reservoir or hitting a local hotel instead of at the takeout this November.

Enjoy the Cheoah!