Whitewater Sports During the Drought
by Jennifer West
This summer's weather in the Northeast has been gorgeous if you've been hanging out on a beach, but all those sunny days have put us in a drought with year-to-date rainfall totals below normal, but we are fortunate to benefit from two large storage reservoirs in southern Vermont that let us run great rafting trips all summer long and into the fall. With the help of these reservoirs, we've been able to raft at normal water levels all season long, and expect consistent conditions to continue for our fall trips.
The power company that owns the reservoirs, Transcanada, releases water for summertime power generation that matches peak demand for electric power when the weather is hot and air conditioning loads are at their maximums. For us, this means water releases at recreational levels when everyone's planning their vacations! In the nearly 100 years since the power company has managed these reservoirs, they've developed targets for water levels at different times of the year to ensure they use the seasonal rainfall and snow melt to their best advantage.
This year started with a dry spring, but the rain we did get was just enough for the reservoirs to fill by their target date, June 15. Once the reservoirs were full, Transcanada started releasing water at peak demand hours, mid-day, throughout the summer. This allowed, and will continue to allow, us to raft and kayak as usual. The only difference between this dry summer and a wetter one has been that the releases have been of shorter duration (3 hours a day instead of 4 to 12 hours). Since we move down the river away from the dam at about the same pace as the water, those 3 hours give us ample time to run all of our rafting and kayaking trips. Flows have been normal - about 800 cubic feet per second on the Zoar Gap section and between 900 and 1100 cubic feet per second on the Dryway - because these are the most efficient energy generation levels for the power company.
With the rainfall we experienced in August, we've made up about 2 or 3 inches of our water deficit. These things do generally even out, so by this winter or next spring, the drought is likely to ease. In the meantime, come rafting or kayaking and enjoy one of the side benefits of hydroelectric power generation!