River enthusiasts will soon have new paddling opportunities on West Virginia's New River. Federal regulators issued a new 47-year license for the dam that dewaters the spectacular 5.5-mile New River Dries in the final days of 2017. The license requires significant new recreational and environmental enhancements in a river reach that has suffered from water withdrawals for well over half a century. American Whitewater played an active and leading role in securing these outcomes. The hallmarks of the new federal license include:
The dam owner is required to consult with American Whitewater and outfitters and submit formal plans for providing releases and access within six months. Releases are to begin immediately upon approval of the plans by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, likely in 2019. As with any federal decision, appeals could cause delays.
American Whitewater sought significant improvements on this beautiful stretch of river at every stage of the multi-year relicensing effort. This effort was made extremely challenging because a nearby alloy manufacturing plant relies upon the unusual frequency of power the dam generates. When the State of West Virginia mandated only three whitewater releases we appealed, and secured an additional six days of releases in the state permit. Unfortunately, under intense political pressure to keep the New River dry by federal lawmakers, the FERC chose not to require releases in addition to those required by the state. If someday the alloy plant no longer needs the power, the flow regime will be reconsidered.
While not the grander outcome we had hoped for, the new license will usher in a new and much better era on the New River Dries. Paddlers will enjoy nine new releases, improved access, and much better flow information. Summer releases will likely draw intermediate paddlers from around the region, and paddlers will take advantage of spring flows more often. The higher base flows and pulse flows should be great for aquatic health and the fishing should improve. There will be improved hiking opportunities, and climbers will enjoy the new access areas too. American Whitewater staff will be actively involved in the planning for releases over the next year and beyond. Thanks to all the paddlers who got involved in this project and who supported our work on it. And a special thank you to Bobby Bower who spoke up for the river's commercial rafting potential. See you all on the river!
The 47-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the Hawks Nest Hydroelectric Project, New River Dries, WV. Issued in December, 2017.