The West River has a history of whitewater boating dating back at least 50 years. In 1958, the second eastern and third National Whitewater Slalom Championships were held on the West River in the proposed project area immediately below Ball Mountain Dam. Since that time, and likely since well before that time, the West River has been a whitewater boating staple for the New England paddling community. The river offers several miles of mild whitewater (class II/III) in a very aesthetic gorge with hiking and other recreational opportunities along the river in Jamaica State Park. For many decades the Army Corps of Engineers has provided several recreational releases each fall and spring for the purpose of whitewater boating. In many years these releases are utilized for whitewater races and other events. For almost 50 years six paddling releases per year were provided until 1990 when releases were reduced to four days per year, and in 2003 releases were reduced to three days per year. Michael Crane AICP of Crane Associates, a well-known regional expert in river recreation planning and community and economic development, prepared the economic impact analysis of the value of West River boating releases in 2005. The study examined the economic contribution boaters make to the local economy and the economic losses resulting from the recent reduction of paddling releases. The analysis studied a one day release in September of 2003 and concluded:
“Direct spending in the region amounts to $190,798 for the one-day event. With an economic multiplier of .53, the total economic impacts to the region of the one-day release in September 2003 was $292,092. In addition, there are 5 total jobs supported by the one-day release. A two-day release would contribute a total of $440,065 to the economy and support 7.4 total jobs. The economic loss of reducing the release by one day is $147,973 amounting to a 34% reduction in revenue to the local economy. The total economic loss to the local economy since the first reduction of paddling days in 1990 is 5.6 million dollars. This loss is sustained by the local economy indefinitely until the release is returned to the original schedule or the resource provides another benefit of equal or greater value. With no changes to the release, the local economy will loose over 7 million dollars over the next ten years. The financial benefit of returning to the traditional release schedule of 3 weekends is over $1.3 million dollars per year or $15.7 million over the next ten years.”
In addition to the scheduled releases, unscheduled dam releases also provide stochastic boating opportunities throughout the year that relatively few paddlers utilize. Paddlers have for many years opposed efforts by state and federal agencies to eliminate the recreational releases on the West River. This conflict is as much of an issue today as ever, as paddlers feel that their recreational enjoyment of the project has been curtailed without justification.
Currently two parallel processes offer potential opportunities and/or threats to paddling on the West River.
First, the Army Corps of Engineers has entered into a partnership with the Nature Conservancy (TNC) to seek improvements in the operation of several dams in the Connecticut River watershed, including Ball Mountain Dam on the West River. One of the primary goals of this partnership is to improve conditions for atlantic salmon. TNC often utilizes their Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration statistical tool to highlight divergences from natural flows and thus opportunities for improvement. A more strict adherence to natural flow patterns may enhance boating opportunities. In addition the TNC research could highlight specific ways in which to time and shape recreational releases to benefit (and not impact) aquatic species.
Second, an aspiring hydropower developer has recently proposed to add a hydropower generation facility at Ball Mountain Dam. This proposal could improve the dam's physical ability to release more environmentally sensitive flows and could possibly benefit river access. Unfortunately it is also possible that the project could impact river access, flows, the first rapid, and the scenery.
American Whitewater is working closely with local and regional paddling clubs and businesses to participate in both of these important river management issues.
You can learn more about the West by visiting http://friendsofthewestriver.org/wb/
In response to of the state’s draft basin plan for southern Vermont, American Whitewater and scores of boaters pressed the state to support the expansion of releases on the West River. Restrictions by the Corps of Engineers and Agency of Natural Resources have led to the elimination of nearly all scheduled boating opportunities on the West River over the past two decades, eliminating recreation opportunity and hurting the local economy. AW and its partners have been working to restore these releases.
Vermont Paddlers Club have stepped up to help out with a low key, paddler driven river clean-up on the West River this weekend. Bring your own bags and gloves if possible, and dispose of all trash in the State Park dumpsters after your run or at your convenience.
American Whitewater recently joined regional paddling and conservation partners in seeking additional class III paddling opportunities on Vermont's Little and West rivers. The requests were formal filings made to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
This week American Whitewater, New England Flow and the Vermont Paddlers Club are filing a detailed written request for studies relating to a proposed hydropower project on the popular West River. The requested studies would provide critical insight into the effects of the proposed project on recreation, hydrology, and Atlantic salmon.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced today that they will be releasing 1500-1800cfs all weekend (March 26-28). Read the full article for details, and as always, be safe out there.
A private hydropower company has proposed to install hydropower generation facilities in two Army Corps of Engineers Dams on the West River (VT), including Ball Mountain Dam which provides releases into the popular whitewater section of the West. The Company, Blue Heron Hydro (BHH) is hosting a public meeting and site visit to discuss their proposal. Paddlers interested in the effects that the hydropower installation may have on the West River are encouraged to attend the meeting and site visit.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is currently investigating opportunities for restoring natural functions to the Connecticut River Watershed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. TNC's efforts are focused on reconnecting rivers and streams, restoring floodplain forests, and managing flows for people and nature. AW is working with TNC, and we are hopeful that this process will benefit several whitewater rivers and their enjoyment.
The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.
What is the Army Corps Doing on the West River (VT)?
November 25, 2003
West River Economic Study Released (VT)
April 22, 2005
CORPS REVERSES WEST RIVER DECISION
April 14, 2003
Army Corps Torpedo’s West River Releases (VT)
March 26, 2009
West River Update (VT)
April 16, 2009
West River Releases June 27,28!
June 25, 2009
TNC Investigates Flow Improvements in New England
July 31, 2009
West River Hydropower Proposal Meetings Scheduled
October 31, 2009
West River (VT) To Run This Weekend
March 25, 2010
AW and Northeast Paddlers Seek More Class III Opportunities
February 1, 2012
West River Clean-Up This Saturday (VT)
September 28, 2012
Boaters Enjoy Annual West River (VT) Release
September 29, 2015
Northeast Boaters Seek To Expand West River (VT) Boating
December 6, 2015
This study is an economic impact analysis of the effects of boater visitation on the local economy.