By Ashley Goodman
Nine days of recreational whitewater releases will be made annually from Hawks Nest Dam. The release days are expected to begin in 2019 and are a new requirement mandated as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s renewal of Brookfield Renewable Energy Group’s license for the dam on Dec. 22.
The 85-year-old dam powers the West Virginia Manufacturing silicon smelting plant in Alloy, W.Va. It diverts water from 5.5 miles of the New River, resulting in low water levels and earning the stretch the nickname “the New River Dries.”
The nine days of whitewater releases were among numerous changes required by FERC. Other changes included increased minimal water flow to improve the habitat for aquatic life and a river gauge to provide real-time stream data and forecasts for local outfitters.
FERC also mandated improved public access to the river through renovations such as new restrooms and changing facilities, increased parking and a take-out area near Gauley Bridge.
Although American Whitewater had requested 41 days of whitewater releases, the organization believes “the new license will usher in a new and much better era on the New River Dries,” according to a post on their website from January.
Local resort and outfitter Adventures on the Gorge plans to use the new resources to expand options for customers, especially families.
“We’re really excited about the releases,” says Adventures Marketing Manager Brian Campbell. “We have to get a lot more opportunities to use the resources at the projected flows to really figure out what the best use for that is. We hope it’s a more family friendly Class 3-plus experience that can open up a new opportunity for a shorter, half-day family trip.”