History of Whitewater Recreation on the West River
Recent History of the West River Dam Release Issue
On 3/26/98, Mike Duclos and Julia Khorana from the Boston AMC made a special trip to Jamaica, VT to attend a Master Plan meeting held by the ACOE. One of the stated goals at that meeting was to “..hear any ideas which might enhance public enjoyment of ACOE projects ..”. The Ball Mt. and Townsend projects were described in detail, as well as the some of the operational constraints, fisheries issues, land use issues, etc. We were told at that time that there was “ .. no proposal for changes by the Corps, this is just a Master Plan update …” At that time these representatives presented a written list of ideas which could be implemented to facilitate recreational use of the West River by boating interests.
On May 11, 1998, Mike Duclos sent a four page letter as Chair of the Boston AMC Canoe Committees’ Conservation Committee to Richard Heidebrecht of ACOE, copying 15 federal representatives in VT and MA, which offered detailed suggestions on ways in which whitewater recreation using this remarkable resource could be facilitated, at little or no cost.
On May 13, Bruce Lessels, a member of the Board of Directors of FLOW (Friends for the Liberation of Whitewater, an organization formed to reach the historical agreement with FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) on the Deerfield River) sent a two page letter to Richard Heidebrecht of ACOE, describing our history of use, the extraordinary whitewater resource the river provides, and a request to set up a meeting to discuss this further.
We held another meeting on 6/11/98 with 6 ACOE and 5 whitewater (AMC, FLOW, AW) representatives during which we had further discussions.
On June 13, 2000, we held yet another meeting with ACOE on the general topic of the Connecticut River Watershed which included the West River at USFWS headquarters in Hadley, MA. At that meeting Norm Sims requested and later formalized in writing (see letter dated June 19, 2000) a request for two studies, one an Economic Value Study, the other on the impact of whitewater releases on the biology of the river. We were told at this time that the Master Plan was on hold due to unsolved issues concerning flows involving USFWS. We requested the restoration of the second spring release, and presented our legal research that there is a statutory mandate for the maximization of recreational uses at ACOE projects.
On July 21, 2000, 7 whitewater representatives and 5 ACOE staff met at the UMass campus in Amherst, MA for further discussion of fisheries impact. We were told at that time that the Draft Environmental Assessment would involve whitewater recreation. At that time we requested we be present at the next meeting to involve VANR, since they had not been represented at any of these previous meetings.
On August 23, 2000, two ACOE staff, Norm Sims and Mike Duclos met at ACOE headquarters in Concord, MA . Here we were informed of some of the issues VANR has with dam operation with respect to whitewater releases. We discussed these issues with respect to time shifting (which VANR opposed in the summer, but agreed to in the October – November timeframe). ACOE agreed to experiment with time-shifted releases this fall in October and November. These releases proved very popular.
On 4/2/2003, Julia Khorana, FLOW whitewater dam release coordinator received the annual dam water approval letter from ACOEs’ Richard Carlson, which stated a 1030 cfs release on the West River 4/26/03 and 4/27/03. This was almost a 500 cfs reduction from historical release levels of 1,500 cfs
On 4/10/03, Tom Christopher as Conservation Chair for American Whitewater wrote a letter protesting release day and flow levels cutbacks on the West and other rivers in the approval letter. He referred to the history of whitewater interest and his recent communications with ACOE.
In a letter dated 4/23/2003, Mr Richard Carlson wrote a response to Tom Christopher. In it he states “There never have been scheduled releases related to whitewater activities.” He also states that ACOE had been working with federal and state wildlife agencies, and that they believe there is a basis for the “minor changes that are being implemented this year.” This was our notice that the whitewater interests had been left ‘out of the loop’, in this important decision making process, in spite of our history of interest in meetings and with correspondence in whitewater recreation on the West River.
On 6/12/03, there was a well attended meeting at ACOE headquarters in Concord, MA. At this time whitewater representatives from AMC, FLOW, and AW presented the background of we have been able to negotiate FERC re-licensing agreements for hydroelectric dams on the Deerfield and Pemigewasset Rivers since 1998, that provided for significant weekly or daily whitewater flows throughout the boating season while at the same time balancing various fisheries issues. The agreement which was achieved was heralded by the Wall Street Journal as “Decade Long Dispute Ends In an Agreement Seen As An Example for Industry”. The whitewater representatives protested being left ‘out of the loop’ after our lengthy history of discussions with ACOE. Bruce Lessels pointedly asked Bruce Williams why, since he knew full well of our active and vocal interest in this matter, why we had been left ‘out of the loop’ in the decision making process. Bruce Williams stated in front of all in attendance that he could not respond to that question. Richard Carlson acknowledged we were not involved in the negotiations, yet he refuses to reconsider his decision from which we were excluded. A representative of the USF&W also acknowledged we had been left out of the process and apologized.
On 9/23/03, another meeting was held at ACOE headquarters in Concord, MA, with about 30 in attendance, including Dr. Ken Kimball, staff scientist with the AMC. There was discussion on the fisheries impact and the boaters questioned the methods used to arrive at the ACOE guidelines which had been established. No information on the change in flows “required” by fisheries interests was given by the agencies. After much extended discussion, it was agreed that:
1. Whitewater Interests would present a history of the whitewater releases provided by ACOE on the West River, and other ACOE projects in the Connecticut River basin. With considerable effort and diligence, this was formalized in a four page letter by Tom Quarles AMC IPC Chair and Julia Khorana, and delivered by the deadline of 10/17/03.
2. ACOE would provide an analysis of the flow data for the project, and that this data would be made available before Thanksgiving. Instead, ACOE copied a simple table of the “mean of means” from a table on the USGS website, and sent it to us on 12/31/03.
On 1/16/04, another meeting was held at Ball Mt Dam with representatives of AMC, AW and FLOW in attendance. Mr. Carlson was to have attended, but his car would not start. Mike MacDonald was appointed as the representative of the Town of Jamaica by the Board of Selectmen, and presented the towns’ interest in continued whitewater recreation, and possibly expanding whitewater opportunities in the Spring, as well as the negative economic impact of having the second day of the Fall West River release cancelled. Chuck Still showed the results of his analysis of flow in the West River. One key point: Whitewater Releases are not significant in the context of the way the river flow has historically been controlled by normal dam operation. VANR provided a comparison of the Fall West River release overlaid on a hydrograph of the Williams River, a nearby unregulated river with a USGS gauge.
Whitewater interests presented a proposal which would reduce the requirements for flow, thereby making possible a two day release in the fall. VANR agreed to review the proposal. It was subsequently rejected as not meeting their requirements.
ACOE was to get back to us by the beginning of February with a mid-February date for the next meeting. They later claimed that there was to be no meeting scheduled