Should recreational activities be given greater consideration when the state evaluates water quality in the relicensing of hydroelectric dams?
A national whitewater paddling group and its local affiliate are appealing a water quality certification issued by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation as part of the federal relicensing process for the hydroelectric dam, operated by the Morrisville Water and Light Department, at Green River Reservoir.
American Whitewater and Vermont Paddlers Club members take advantage of whitewater flows on the Green River from scheduled dam releases. But those big releases would no longer be allowed under the new 401 water quality certification, which requires flows closer to the natural run of the river. The new restrictions are spelled out in a certification issued last month.
Under its previous license, Morrisville Water and Light was able to draw the reservoir down no more than a foot between May and November. However, between December and April the maximum allowable drawdown was 10 feet. Under the new conditions that amount has been drastically reduced, effectively denying the utility's request to hold two scheduled six-hour whitewater releases annually.
But the state says its new flow restrictions won't preclude whitewater recreation.
The water quality certification states, "As proposed, schedule whitewater releases will conflict with the operating regime being conditioned by this certification at the Green River development. However, by Condition B of this certification, facility operations will be closer to run-of-river operations which will help to restore the frequency of natural high flow events and allow for whitewater boating when natural flows are compatible with boating. This certification is being conditioned such that the downstream flow regime will provide waters of a high quality that is suitable for and compatible with boating."
The change in conditions intends to improve the natural habitat downstream of the Green River reservoir dam.
"The annual winter draw down causes an annual disturbance that prevents the establishment of a rich diversity of native aquatic plants that would provide high quality habitat for fish and wildlife due to dewatering and freezing of the near shore area," the new water quality certification states. "A water level management scenario that more closely mimics a natural system would support the development of a healthy littoral plant community consistent with high quality aquatic habitat. This certification is being conditioned such that the water level management regime will provide high quality aquatic habitat in the reservoir."
The appeal of the state's water quality certification has been filed in Vermont's Environmental Court.