Instream Flows Restored to Poe Reach on the North Fork Feather!
Twenty years after American Whitewater began engaging in the relicensing of the Poe hydroelectric project on the North Fork Feather River (CA), the section is finally seeing boatable flows that will support recreation almost year round in all but the driest years and will greatly improve ecological conditions for the river. FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) issued a new license for the Poe project in December of 2018. This new license included increased base flows and a volume of water to develop a recreation flow schedule, to be determined by American Whitewater, resource agencies, Butte County and PG&E. The hydro projects that were built in the Feather River drainage in the 1950's and 60's gathered up most of the river's water and put it in pipes to produce power. While this was a boon for power production, it was devastating for the ecosystem and local recreation economy. Since 1997, American Whitewater has successfully restored flows to multiple de-watered sections of the Feather and this success on the Poe project is one of the last pieces of the puzzle to restoring recreation and ecological flows to the entire drainage.
"I had the opportunity to paddle the Bardees Bar section of the Poe reach recently. It was fabulous. Seeing this section of the Feather emerge from over a half century of worse than extreme drought conditions, 50 -150 cfs, to a much improved 500 cfs, filled me with joy and pride. It just looked right." - AW California Hydropower Specialist, Dave Steindorf
In restoring these flows, we applied lessons learned from our work on hydro projects across California, specifically the science we helped develop that protects the Foothill Yellow Legged Frogs that exist on the Feather. Flows that gradually recede with the spring snowmelt provide better conditions for frogs and other native aquatic species. Fortunately these flow conditions also provide predictable flows for whitewater recreation. We also negotiated a new trails and road enhancements, flatwater paddling access, all improvements for whitewater paddling, and other recreation activities, in this section of the North Fork Feather .
American Whitewater has spent so much time and effort on the Feather because of its huge restoration potential. Without the hydro projects, the Feather supported one of the most robust trout fisheries in the state and would have provided whitewater boating all summer long, even in the driest of years. With the latest flow agreement for the Rock Creek and Cresta reaches in place, year round boating has returned to the Feather River. This added recreation opportunity on the Poe segment will continue to help revitalize the North Fork Feather canyon and provide more summer and fall boating opportunities when other drainages are no longer running at boatable flows.
We're still in discussions on how to implement the recreation release schedule, above and beyond boatable base flows. In Normal and Wet water years, we negotiated 6,000 additional acre-feet in the Poe bypass reach for recreational boating purposes. This fall we conducted the first test release on the Poe reach, and it was a huge success. "Good times on Poe Canyon! What a cool release so late in the season. Thanks for the release AW, Poe Canyon was the highlight of my fall!" -Mareike Delley. This reach includes the upper, Class V, section from Sandy Beach down to Bardees Bar, and the Class III/IV section from Bardees Bar to the Poe Powerhouse. The final development of this schedule will be in part dictated by the final ramping rate plan that will be developed over the next year. Our intent was to have releases this fall to help gauge the level of interest in flows during that time of year, and a great turnout proved there is solid interest for more fall releases! A final note of exciting news we've just received - the Poe reach will have low boatable flows through most of the winter! So c'mon out and enjoy the Feather River!