The Chelan Gorge is a short but spectacular section of whitewater on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Emerging from the outlet of Lake Chelan, the largest natural lake in Washington State, the river cascades through an impressive gorge on its four mile journey to the Columbia River. Aside from unpredictable high water events that were generally too high for safe boating and only occurred when the outflow from the lake exceeded the capacity of the powerhouse, the Chelan River was typically dewatered. American Whitewater recognized a unique opportunity for a class V boating opportunity on this reach. While Chelan PUD was originally resistant to considering whitewater recreation, American Whitewater advocated for a study of the opportunity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required Chelan PUD to conduct the study that demonstrated the feasibility of boating in the Chelan Gorge. American Whitewater worked with Chelan PUD to include provisions for whitewater recreation as part of a comprehensive settlement agreement for the new license for the Chelan Hydroelectric Project (P-637) that was finalized in 2003 (read the whitewater boating provisions below). In 2006, FERC approved the Settlement Agreement and issued a new license that included the provisions for whitewater recreation. Whitewater recreational opportunities were initiated in 2009 and are managed through a cooperative partnership between American Whitewater and Chelan PUD.
Currently, Chelan PUD provides an annual whitewater recreational opportunity each year on the 3rd weekend in September. Flows on Saturdays are 375 cfs, and flows on Sundays are 400 cfs with the river open to paddlers from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Participant surveys are conducted annually and the whitewater boating plan is evaluated every three years. All boaters must be at least 18 years of age and are required to pre-register and complete the reservation process. Only non-motorized hard-shelled kayaks or inflatables suitable for Class V whitewater are allowed.
Additional Information: Chelan PUD whitewater recreation page
Provisions for Whitewater Boating, Settlement Agreement for Chelan Hydroelectric Project, October 2003
Note that some of these provisions have been modified through the development of the whitewater recreation plan as noted below in brackets.
Within one year of the effective date of the New License, Chelan PUD shall file with FERC for approval, plans for a three-year whitewater boating monitoring study in the Chelan River. The whitewater boating monitoring plan shall be developed by Chelan PUD, in consultation with the American Whitewater Affiliation.
Specifically: (1) Upon FERC approval of such three-year study, Chelan PUD shall provide an annual schedule of whitewater releases for kayaks in the Chelan River during such three year period. Chelan PUD shall release flows on the second and fourth weekends in July and September, except as provided in subsection (10). Flows on Saturdays shall be between 300 cfs and 375 cfs, and flows on Sundays shall be between 400 cfs and 450 cfs.
[Following the whitewater boating monitoring study, American Whitewater and Chelan PUD agreed that current demand warranted a single weekend of releases on the third weekend in September. We may revisit this issue if demand increases.]
(2) Chelan PUD shall develop a reservation system for the whitewater boating monitoring study, whereby the scheduled water releases are made only if six or more kayakers make a reservation by 5:00 P.M. on the Thursday prior to the scheduled release date, and are physically present at the designated kayak put-in location by 10:00 A.M. on the date of the release, and liability insurance protecting the Chelan PUD’s liability is in place, as provided in subsection (10). Additionally, each kayaker shall be required to sign a liability waiver in a form satisfactory to Chelan PUD prior to launching his or her kayak in the Chelan River. Only non-motorized, hard-shelled kayaks suitable for Class V whitewater shall be allowed, and no kayaker less than 18 years old shall be allowed. If the conditions contained in this paragraph are met, Chelan PUD shall begin the rampingup of releases to meet the flows specified in subsection (1) above at 11:00 A.M., and shall begin ramping-down no sooner than 6:00 P.M.
[Chelan PUD has maintained a reservation system but dropped the requirement for six or more kayakers to make a reservation. American Whitewater had safety concerns with the system that resulted in paddlers being pressured to join a group to ensure the minimum number was met. In addition, it created a great deal of uncertainty over whether a release was happening that made advance planning for a trip to the Chelan difficult. In reaching the agreement for only one weekend of releases, we had an interest in providing paddlers with more certainty that a release would occur.]
(3) A survey tool shall be designed by Chelan PUD, in consultation with American Whitewater Affiliation, to solicit input from whitewater boaters utilizing the Chelan River whitewater releases. The survey tool should at minimum query boaters on the suitability of the following: whitewater release dates, daily schedule, whitewater difficulty, spill volumes, access, carrying capacity, reservation system, and real time flow information.
[Chelan PUD continues to survey paddlers as part of reporting on this license measure to FERC.]
(4) Chelan PUD shall conduct an annual meeting on or before May 1 whereby Chelan PUD and American Whitewater will review the annual whitewater report, as provided in subsection (5), and make adjustments as warranted to the annual schedule and spill volume, subject to the limitations in subsection (8) and (10), reservation system, and methods for liability protection for the upcoming year.
[Chelan PUD conducts an annual meeting with American Whitewater, usually as a conference call, to review the previous year's event and plan for the coming year.]
(5) Chelan PUD shall submit annual reports to FERC on or before June 1 for the previous year’s whitewater boating monitoring study in the Chelan River for the initial three years after the effective date of the New License.
(6) Chelan PUD shall submit a final report upon completion of the three year whitewater boating monitoring study by May 1 on the fourth anniversary of the effective date of the new license. The final report should at a minimum include information on the dates and volumes of each release for the three year study period, annual use patterns, and an analysis of user preferences based on survey data. The report should also include recommendations for providing whitewater releases, if any, for the remainder of the license term. These recommendations should include at a minimum an annual schedule of releases including volume and timing, reservation system and minimum number of boaters required to trigger a release, and mechanism for liability protection.
Chelan PUD shall include with the final report documentation of consultation with American Whitewater Affiliation, copies of comments and recommendations on the final report. Chelan PUD shall allow a minimum of 30 days for the American Whitewater Affiliation to comment and to make recommendations prior to filing the final report with FERC for approval. If Chelan PUD does not adopt a recommendation, the filing shall include Chelan PUD’s reasons for not doing so, based on among other things, any relevant project-specific information.
In the event that FERC fails to respond to the final report recommendations, the conditions associated with the three-year whitewater boating monitoring study shall remain in effect for a maximum of two years while pending a FERC ruling.
(7) Chelan PUD shall make publicly available for the three-year whitewater boating monitoring study and for the term of the New License real-time flow information via the Internet for the Chelan River. This information may be published on the Chelan PUD Web site or a third party Web site. The Internet site shall include at a minimum the annual schedule for whitewater releases, instructions and requirements for the reservation system, and real-time flow data information. Adjustments to the reservation system must be posted by May 1.
(8) Upon completion of the three-year whitewater boating monitoring study and for the remainder of the New License term, except as provided in subsection (10), Chelan PUD shall provide whitewater releases on the second and fourth weekends in July and September, provided that a minimum number of kayakers make a reservation by the Thursday prior to the scheduled release, through a reservation system developed and implemented by Chelan PUD, and are physically present by 10:00 A.M. on the date of the release. Chelan PUD, in consultation with American Whitewater Affiliation, may adjust the flow levels used following the three year study, but in no event shall the number of releases exceed eight, nor do the flow levels exceed 450 cfs. Chelan PUD shall also determine, in consultation with American Whitewater, the minimum number of kayakers required for future flow releases, but in no event should the number be less than six. Chelan PUD may also make changes to the schedule and/or reservation procedures, in consultation with the American Whitewater Affiliation.
[Requirements for the minimum number of kayakers have been modified as described above.]
(9) Chelan PUD shall not be obligated to provide whitewater boating flow releases in the Chelan River when the previous day’s average Stehekin River inflow is less than 333 cfs, or when the Mid-Columbia Index is greater than $150/MWh ($2001) as adjusted pursuant to section 19.1 of the Agreement.
(10) In order to facilitate whitewater releases in the Chelan River until the Washington State Recreational Use Statute RCW 4.24.210 is changed to Chelan PUD’s satisfaction, including an amendment that expressly extends the immunity protections of such statute to recreational whitewater releases or an alternative non-legislative mechanism is developed, Chelan PUD and American Whitewater intend to work together to secure liability insurance protecting Chelan PUD’s self-insured retention (subject to a mutually agreed deductible not to exceed $25,000) for each whitewater release in the Chelan River. Such liability insurance policy shall; (a) have a rating of A-8 minimum, (b) be Comprehensive General Liability for special events, © name Chelan PUD as an additional named insured, (d) be primary to other existing collectible insurance by Chelan PUD, (e) be purchased annually to cover all whitewater boating in the Chelan River, as described in this Chapter, whether such boating be sponsored by AWA or others, and (f) be approved by Chelan PUD in advance of any whitewater release. Once such insurance is obtained, whitewater releases shall be made in accordance with the schedule contained in this Chapter.
Funding for the purchase of the insurance will be derived from foregoing a maximum of four whitewater release per year (September releases). Chelan PUD shall have no obligation to fund the purchase of insurance beyond the amount saved from the foregone releases from the preceding year. Only whitewater releases that are covered by an insurance policy shall occur. The requirement for liability insurance shall only be removed if legislation is amended acceptable to Chelan PUD or a mutually agreeable mechanism for liability protection is developed between American Whitewater and Chelan PUD.
[FERC modified this condition in their license order stating the following: “safety and liability concerns are not uncommon issues associated with whitewater boating and the fact that there is risk involved has not precluded the Commission from requiring whitewater access and flow releases. Therefore, I have included in Article 407 the substance of Agreement Article 11(h) that requires the licensee to implement the whitewater boating monitoring study, but without the provisions requiring liability insurance or, in the alternative, changes in state liability laws to be in place prior to providing the releases.”
(11) Chelan PUD, American Whitewater and other interested parties intend to work collaboratively to seek an amendment to the above-cited statute that expressly extends the immunity protections of such statute to recreational whitewater releases of the kind that would be provided by Chelan PUD pursuant to this Chapter. An example of such wording for an amendment to the Washington State Recreational Use Statute, RCW 4.24.210 is “an owner, lessee or occupant of a hydropower or other water impoundment facility who releases water from such facility in order to, among other things, facilitate recreational use of such water (whether flowing through a rural or an urban area, or both), shall not be liable for damages alleged to have been sustained by any person by reason of such release. Water releases during daylight hours into streams that are used or useful for whitewater recreation are conclusively presumed to be made, among other things, to facilitate recreational use or such water releases.” In the event that such amendments to the statute occur, Chelan PUD shall be responsible for all eight releases described in this Chapter. In the event that such amendments to the statute do not occur within the three year whitewater boating monitoring study described in this Chapter, Chelan PUD and AWA intend to work collaboratively to resolve outstanding issues.
[The Washington State Recreational Use Statute has been changed to recognize whitewater recreation at hydropower facilities.]
If any outstanding issues cannot be resolved within a one year period, the parties agree to use the dispute resolution process pursuant to section 16 of the Agreement.
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Sultan Relicensing - Chelan (WA)
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- Chelan Flow Study
Recreational flow study for the Chelan River in Washington State.
Memo prepared by Center for Justice on Recreational Statute and Dam Liability