American Whitewater Spring 2010 Board Meeting.
After wrapping up a great time in New Mexico, we headed north to Golden, Colorado for an American Whitewater board meeting that I was attending. AW board meetings are always exciting for me, because it's incredible to hear the updates from the stewardship staff on the unbelievable work that they are doing to protect and restore rivers and our enjoyment of them. On top of that, the board and staff are a great bunch of folks to spend a weekend with, and there is usually some paddling involved!
So this update will be a little different from our usual adventure updates - I'm going to highlight some of the things we heard about at the meeting and some of the work that AW is doing. And of course, there will be some pictures from the paddling part too!
The first part of the meeting was about the hosting state - Colorado - and the access and water problems that are going on in that very complicated place. We spent fully half of the stewardship day hearing from Nathan, as well as many other advocates who are working hard on the problems that Colorado faces. There's not much to report in the way of progress yet, but working on the complex problems in that state is a major priority for AW. We're really glad that Nathan (Colorado Stewardship Director) is on the ground at work there, and are hoping to feed more support his way to help.
The problems in Colorado are twofold:
The first (and most visible) problem in Colorado is the problem of the right to float. Colorado is the only state in the US where the right to float issue has not been decided, making it a hotbed for access battles.
AW and many partners are working hard on finding opportunities to settle this issue in favor of the right to float.
The other major issue that AW is watching in Colorado is all of the complicated water rights issues, and trying to keep water in the rivers long term. Due to the population (and thus the largest water demand) being on the east side of the mountains and most of the water (snow) falling on the western slope of the mountains, the Colorado Front Range typically looks to diverting western slope water to the eastern side of the mountains, taking the water from the rivers where it's supposed to run. One of the main focal points of this is the Colorado River Drainage - and AW is working hard on various protections - including Wild & Scenic - to try to preserve flows in western slope streams as the demand for water grows in the cities of the Front Range.
All of the work in Colorado is ongoing, but rest assured that AW is taking on the long term challenge of fighting for access and conservation in this incredibly important whitewater state.
After a marathon session of discussing issues and strategies for Colorado, we moved on to the rest of the country, kicked off by National Stewardship Director Kevin Colburn.
Here are a few highlights Kev hit on:
-The Tuckaseegee in NC: The Dillsboro Dam has finally been removed, paving the way for the new licenses to be issued for the West Fork Tuck and Nantahala Cascades/Upper Nantahala. This will mean scheduled releases on these reaches, probably starting after the licenses have been issued by FERC. There is a small chance that this will happen by 2011, but we'll almost certainly have the releases by 2012. This is going to add some more great releases to the incredible line-up of streams that AW has gotten water back into for paddlers over the last 15 years. This one is pretty cool for me, because it's the first AW project that I've followed all the way from being on the flow study to success in getting water back into the river. You can link over to youtube to see a video that I made of the flow study, which shows the stream at a couple of levels. You can see why we're excited to have this great stream added into the mix in the Southeast!
-Sullivan Creek in eastern Washington - the dam is coming out! Kevin has been working hard on this beautiful stream, and the resolution is that the dam will come out to allow passage for endangered Bull Trout, as well as uncovering rapids that have been buried under the lake for over a century.
After hearing briefly from Kev, Tom O'Keefe (Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director) stood up and gave us some scoop on a few things. Tom is a notorious dam wrecker, and has been working hard to restore rivers in the Northwest:
-Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek in Washington (tributary of the Wind River) is gone. This joins the Sandy as the second step toward restoring all of the side streams in the lower Columbia Valley to free flowing.
-Condit Dam on the White Salmon (and one other) are going to be removed as well, completing the freeing of the lower Columbia's tribs.
-Rogue River Dams (southern Oregon) are coming out too! This is one of the nation's first Wild & Scenic rivers, which is being restored to free flowing! Savage Rapids dam has been removed, Gold Hill Dam has been removed, and Gold Ray Dam has been awarded stimulus funds which will allow it to be removed this summer. Elk Creek Dam (on a Rogue trib) has been removed as well.
-Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula, Washington - Giles Canyon Dam should hopefully come out next year.
Great work by Tom working hard on the projects to remove these dams!!
Next up we got a brief update on some of the organizations that AW collaborates with in the course of doing their work. Most AW members don't realize how involved AW is in a wide array of conservation, or how respected we are as a collaborator and often a leader in the fight to save rivers. AW's strength is greater by teaming with other groups to create a bigger voice for rivers and wild places. AW members should be proud of the respect that AW has from these groups, and of the incredible teamwork and leadership that AW shows as an organization through these involvements.
-The Outdoor Alliance. AW is very active in this affiliation of human powered outdoor recreation user groups, which also includes the Access Fund (climbing), the ACA, American Hiking Society, IMBA (Mountain Biking), and the Winter Wildlands Alliance (snow sports). This collaboration of many users from different activities gives huge added strength in Washington for work on issues such as preserving roadless areas (and thus the water quality in streams and rivers). Our own Executive Director, Mark Singleton, is president of the Outdoor Alliance.
-The Hydropower Reform Coalition. AW also works closely with this great affiliation of 150 groups of conservationists and recreationists. These guys are often who AW works with on bringing down dams, and other issues regarding dams and hydropower.
Next up, Dave Steindorf (California Stewardship Director) told us about some of what's going on with him. Dave is working on a lot of relicensings to get flows back in rivers. Most of his work seems to center around finding a balance between benefiting the river's ecology and paddlers - which often means restoring flows that mimic spring runoff instead of the flat line year round that many power plants release now. As a benefit, flows are restored to streams such as the Mokelumne, and hopefully will be restored to other important rivers like the beautiful 25 miles of class III/IV wilderness paddling on the McCloud. The McCloud is also native habitat for rainbow trout.
Much of AW's conservation work is funded by grants, so we are able to cover a lot of ground there. Recreation work on getting flows for padders is funded by AW members - so support AW by joining up today!
Next from Dave was info on the South Yuba drainage and the fight to get flows there. We've been in the South Yuba drainage for the last few weeks, and the South Yuba has one of the best varieties of quality whitewater on any stream on the continent. Unfortunately, it's plumbed and diverted in so many different directions that it's almost impossible to figure out where all of the water goes. As with other areas in Cali, Dave is trying to get natural hydrographs restored, and flow put back in the rivers it belongs in.
Other quick hits from the other guys:
-Sultan in Washington - FERC has issued a draft enviro assessment relating to the relicensing of this 12 mile class III/IV run which is less than 1 hour from Seattle. The relicensing process is moving forward - hopefully one day we'll have releases there.
-Wisconsin River - working on getting releases there.
-Bear River in SE Idaho - we're on the 3rd year of releases. This river is infestested with the invasive Zebra Mussels, which damage natural systems and can spread on your boat and gear!! If you paddle the Bear, please learn how to properly clean your gear after to stop the spread of these aquatic pests.
-It's the 25th anniversary of AW's early success in getting releases on the Black and Moose in New York!
-AW is opposing new dams proposed on the Black uptream of Watertown.
-Saluda River (Columbia, SC) is settled, and we should start seeing flows in spring on this low country class II/III run.
-Cheoah in NC, due to the new flows causing lake levels to stay *higher* than they did before the releases, the river spills more AND there is more head for power generation. So we're getting more paddleable flows AND the power company is getting more power. How's that for a success story!
-AW is fighting new dams on the Madison and East Rosebud in Montana, and the Little Potlach in Idaho.
Dave also covered the fight to stop hydro development that is destroying rivers at an alarming rate in British Columbia. This is an urgent situation because literally hundreds of beautiful streams up there are scheduled for diversion in coming years, which could be a disaster for some of the continent's best and most beautiful whitewater streams. Check out the slide below that shows all of the hydro projects scheduled to go in.
Those are just some highlights from the meeting - there were many other issues touched on, but none with major news to report.
After the long day in the board room, we were stoked to hit the river. Clear Creek ran into the play park in town only 4 blocks from the hotel where we had the meeting, so we piled in the Gypsy Van and shuttled upstream for a run on Lower Clear Creek. Enjoy a few shots of AW board and staff at play!
Huge thanks to all of the hard working staff at AW who do so many things to protect our rivers and our right to float on them!!
AW members should be super proud of the work that AW is doing, and if you are not an AW member and you care about recreation and conservation of rivers, you should support AW today however you can!
After another productive morning of covering business and administration stuff in the board meeting, Andria and I headed off into the mountains, where we were greeted by a bit of weather. Check back with us soon to hear updates from farther along in our trip, including a great few weeks we've just spent in California.