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American Whitewater Board Meeting - 2008

While I was on the road in 2007, I was contacted by a group of paddlers who wanted to nominate me for the AW board. I told them I would be happy to join if elected, but also flew out to California this May to attend a board meeting and decide whether it is something I'm interested in being a part of and a commitment that I can meet if elected. Here is a report from the meeting.

I have been a fairly regular supporter of AW for quite a few years now, and have always wondered about the nuts and bolts of the process of how the organization does its work. Attending a board meeting was a great way for me to have a look inside and learn a lot about AW. The end result is that when I left the meeting, my already high respect for the organization had jumped several notches, and I was impressed with how little I actually knew about all of the work that AW is doing.

The morning kicked off with talks from all of AW's stewardship staff, highlighting different issues that they are working on. I've always known that AW was fighting the good fight for paddling access, but was also amazed to learn how much real environmental work they do. In fact, they are one of the more vocal and respected non-governmental enviro organizations on the scene when it comes to hydropower issues, recreation issues, and public lands issues. Further, they have been involved in the newly formed Outdoor Alliance - a really cool coalition of similar organizations from many different recreation groups like Hikers, Climbers, Mountain Bikers, Backcountry Skiers and snowshoers. This new group combines to have a lot of clout in Washington when it comes to issues regarding preservation and use of public lands.

But specifically for AW, here are some highlight issues that caught my eye as being really cool things the organization is doing:

National Stewardship Director Kevin Colburn was up first, telling about a host of issues that AW is involved in. The one that most caught my eye is a really cool settlement on the Holtwood Project in Pennsylvania. Hotwood is a short section of the Susquehanna River with many channels holding tons of great play when the levels are right. PA paddlers rely on this as a great spot that serves a ton of paddlers in that area, often when there are not many other options. The power company was looking to expand their hydropower plant by excavating bedrock from some channels and rearranging flow, which would have killed some of the best playspots. AW came in and helped work out a new plan where some of the best play was saved, more will be created, and greater good was also still done for the environment by allowing more fish to have access to the fish ladder at the dam to get upstream to spawn. I was really stoked to see that the fish were as much of a priority in the settlement as the boaters here, and that the settlement worked out really well for every interest.

The Holtwood section is a wide area of multiple channels with tons of play features scattered throughout.
Photo courtesy of

Here's a diagram of the project's original layout:

If you take a look at that diagram, the red shaded areas are where the power company wanted to excavate to allow more flow of water through their new generators, adding 100 megawatts of capacity to the project (the equivalent of the entire Nantahala and Tuckasegee system combined. For reference, the Green at 200% generates 8 MW). The Piney Island channel (around Holly Island) is where some of the best play is, including Storm Hole - which is one of the best features out there. AW convinced them not to excavate the area at storm hole, and also to create two new play features in that channel while they excavate. This is taking a project that was going to excavate anyway, and lowering the impact while creating new features!

Jeremy Laucks in Storm Hole
Photo courtesy of

Also secured in the settlement are about 75 days of releases through the channel to allow for play. Pretty good news for the boaters up there!

Here's the kicker - right now, only 3% of the fish actually make it upstream to the fish ladder (it's actually an elevator) over near the generators. By deepening those channels and spilling water through the spillway less often, the fish will now have a significantly higher chance of finding the elevator and making it up to spawn. So the net result is that boaters win, fish win, and the power company wins. What a cool example of everybody working together to find a good solution to a tricky situation.

Click to read the next report - Marmot Dam removal in the Pacific Northwest!