The Jim Falls Hydroelectric Project (FERC P-2491) provides whitewater releases during the summer months for recreation. While the original license that was issued on July 24, 1984 did not include these recreational flows, it was amended as part of the The Lower Chippewa River Settlement Agreement (LCRSA), filed with FERC on February 1, 2001 and approved on February 12, 2003. The LCRSA sets forth the principal environmental conditions for several projects including the Holcombe Project No. 1982, Wissota Project No. 2567, Dells Project No. 2670, Jim Falls Project No. 2491, Chippewa Falls Project No. 2440, and Cornell Project No. 2639. The whitewater recreation plan was further modified on February 24th, 2016.
In determining the needs of whitewater recreation, FERC Staff assessed the suitability of the river for kayaking, and determined that the natural river channel has several rapids and narrow chutes with some 20 feet of fall over its approximately 0.75-mile length impacted by the project, and offers the best whitewater opportunities among the Chippewa River Project sites. The releases are provided when whitewater opportunities are typically rare because of lower river flows, and benefit the region by offering whitewater opportunities on the Chippewa River where they do not currently exist.
Of particular interest to boaters, Article 42 of the Jim Falls license was amended for the benefit of fish and recreation. The original license called for a minimum flow of 240 cfs from ice-out, in spring, through October 31, and a minimum flow of 20 cfs from November 1 through ice-out in spring.
The license was first amended in 2003 to enhance lake sturgeon habitat and provide weekend whitewater releases in summer. The lake sturgeon provision is as follows:
* A minimum flow of 850 cfs is provided into the Jim Falls Project bypass reach from April 1 through May 31 to enhance lake sturgeon spawning habitat, and a minimum flow of 240 cfs is provided the remainder of the year, for the protection and enhancement of aquatic habitat in the Chippewa River.
On January 14, 2016 the whitewater boating events were further modified based on a proposal by Xcel Energy following input from the National Park Service and local boating community. This amendment was approved on February 24th, 2016 (154 FERC ¶ 62,130) and includes the following elements:
1) Increase the number of annual releases from four to six using the following schedule:
* 3 releases during the month of July: 1 Saturday and 1 Sunday release on the same weekend plus 1 additional weekend day release. This would accommodate JFW’s and NPS’s recommendation to have a 2-day release on the same weekend.
* 3 releases during the month of August: 1 Saturday and 1 Sunday release on the same weekend plus 1 additional weekend day release. This would accommodate JFW’s and NPS’s recommendation to have a 2-day release on the same weekend.
* JFW, at their discretion, may defer one of the July or August release dates to September to coincide with Sturgeon Days. A decision to do so must be made by March 31 of each year. This proposal provides JFW the option of deferring one July or one August release date until Sturgeon Days (Labor Day Weekend).
* Gates will be opened such that peak flows occur at the old County Y Bridge between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Ramping down will begin at 3:00 p.m. at which time 450 cfs will be released and held for one and a half hours. At 4:30 p.m., flows will be returned to 240 cfs. This is consistent with the original recreational release plan.
2) The schedule for the releases shall be flexible to avoid conflicts with other Midwest recreational releases. The release schedule shall be developed by Jim Falls Whitewater in consultation with the National Park Service and NSPW. The schedule shall be finalized no later than March 31 of each year. If the schedule is not provided to NSPW by the deadline, the current flow release schedule will be used.
3) The new formal put-in site will be at the Old Abe Wayside off State Highway 178 approximately 1/3 mile upstream of the existing put-in site (Appendix D). The WDOT is agreeable with using their facility for the put-in location as long as any signage developed is consistent with existing signage at the wayside.
4) The new formal take-out site will be on the eastside of the river near the site of the former Jim Falls powerhouse (Appendix D). NSPW has committed to making the necessary improvements at this location to facilitate take-out access for whitewater boaters.