A new classic for New England?

AW and Vermont boaters champion flow releases on Green River

By Alan Panebaker

The first weekend in October provided devoted Yankee kayakers of the Northeast quite the harvest. A flow study on the Green River near Morrisville, Vermont, showed the potential for a high-quality Class IV-V run—one that might even mean water during the summertime, a rarity in these parts.

The Green meanders for over three miles from the Green River Reservoir to the Lamoille River. It hosts a few challenging rapids, including a tricky pothole drop, and lots of entertaining Class IV. In Vermont, where whitewater in the summer is hard to come by, an occasional reliable release would be a game changer. Most of the rivers in Vermont like the New Haven and the Big Branch offer a quick thrill, but they are only a mile long. The rivers, also, are so flashy that paddlers rarely have more than half a day to get the goods before things drop out.

American Whitewater and the Vermont Paddlers Club are advocating for releases on the river and hope to have some voluntary flows from Morrisville Water & Light (the utility company that operates the dam) before the facility on the Green is up for re-licensing. According to a scoping document from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the target date for an environmental assessment, which would include recreational flows, is due in 2013. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, a re-licensing like this one requires an analysis of all potential environmental harm the project might cause. Morrisville Water & Light wants to have its final license application filed by April 30, 2013 according to its process plan and schedule.

That may seem like a long way off, but Kevin Colburn, AW’s National Stewardship Director, said releases from the reservoir could happen even sooner with an agreement from Morrisville Water & Light. Since the company currently releases flows to generate electricity, Colburn said there is a possibility Morrisville will agree to some sort of occasional release consistent with its current license.

As far as specific flows, “it’s kind of a mystery still,” Colburn said. The dam can release anywhere from 1/3 of a generating tube to two full tubes. Flow study levels ranged from two-thirds (a bony level) to two tubes (a wet, fluffy level). Getting summer flows, Colburn said, would be more difficult since there is just not as much water in the reservoir. Spring releases and a fall drawdown would be easier to attain. There is also a limit to how much the dam can release during loon nesting season to avoid drastic changes in the reservoir level. Colburn said there is a possibility of negotiating for both a standard low flow and a higher, “challenge” flow.

Members of the Vermont Paddlers Club, Ryan McCall, Dave Packie, and Bill Hildreth spawned the idea for recreational releases when they began to check out the river as a potential whitewater run in 2008. Packie was riding his motorcycle by the run on the same day that Morrisville Water & Light was releasing for a feasibility study. McCall, Packie, and Hildreth all walked the river to check it out later. The first known descent happened in fall 2010 when heavy rain brought all the rivers in the state to ridiculously high levels, and a group of paddlers headed to the Green to find the creek full. The Vermont Paddlers Club teamed up with AW to schedule the release and has been working with Morrisville Water & Light to make things happen. After a cold, rainy weekend of testing out the run at different flows, the general consensus from the test study group was that the higher flows were best, but that lower water during the summer would be still acceptable. For now, Morrisville has agreed to contact McCall when it’s releasing to generate electricity, so check the Northeast Paddlers Message Board at NPMB.comto see if there are flows happening in the near future..

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