Whitewater rush may not be done for the season
Man-instigated high water along the Feather River generally comes to an end with the final water release from PG&E the end of September each year. Historically, Mother Nature takes over from there.
The annual Feather River Festival takes place during the final September weekend release by PG&E’s Rock Creek/Cresta Hydropower Project and brings awareness and celebration for the mighty force of the Feather River. The “Feather Fest” is a fundraiser for American Whitewater (AW). Proceeds from the weekend go toward supporting the mission to conserve and restore America’s whitewater resources and to enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.
I volunteered to help with the festival thinking it would give me a closer look at what actually “goes on down there.” I’ve seen what looks like hundreds of paddlers enjoying the river during various releases over the years. I always get down at some point to take pictures of the Class V and Class IV paddlers. It looks like a whole lot of fun, but I know it is dangerous.
The festival offers clinics for paddlers or wannabes to brush up or learn skills in the river from experienced boaters. The sign-up forms state that paddlers in each class have at least two years experience in the class that they want to compete. The festival is a seriously fun time with seriously fun people, but they never leave the serious behind on the river. Safety comes first.
My volunteer duty was to serve as a timer on the Class II section of the river on the final day of the festival, Sunday. Thirty or so boaters walked the rocks and boulders to get to the course with their boats in tow, well actually overhead. The day was perfect and the atmosphere downright joyful. I’m not sure I could have been happier than I was perched on top of a river rock alongside the river timing individuals and teams as they traversed the course laid out. Perhaps if I was paddling I would have been happier, but I do not possess the two-year experience needed to compete. That is my motivation to participate in the clinics next time or to take more kayaking classes at Feather River College.
So the event was wonderful, the crew assembled made the rough campsites look manageable. No fancy hookups are available, just trees, dirt and rocks. Of course it is beautiful and the Feather River is abundant with beauty and sound.
So support of American Whitewater was fun and purposeful. I did get a closer look at the paddlers.
But Nov. 7 some newsy developments may be changing the seasonality of boating along the Feather. Twenty years after American Whitewater began engaging in the re-licensing of the Poe hydroelectric project on the North Fork Feather River, the section is finally seeing boatable flows that will support recreation almost year round in all but the driest years and will greatly improve ecological conditions for the river.
FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) issued a new license for the Poe project in December 2018. The new license includes increased base flows and a volume of water to develop a recreation flow schedule, to be determined by American Whitewater, resource agencies, Butte County and PG&E. This fall, American Whitewater conducted the first test release on the Poe reach, and it was a huge success.
“Good times on Poe Canyon! What a cool release so late in the season. Thanks for the release AW, Poe Canyon was the highlight of my fall!” said boater Mareike Delley.
This reach includes the upper, Class V, section from Sandy Beach down to Bardees Bar, and the Class III/IV section from Bardees Bar to the Poe Powerhouse. American Whitewater has spent so much time and effort on the Feather because of its huge restoration potential. “I had the opportunity to paddle the Bardees Bar section of the Poe reach recently. It was fabulous. Seeing this section of the Feather emerge from over a half century of worse than extreme drought conditions, 50 to 150 cfs, to a much-improved 500 cfs, filled me with joy and pride. It just looked right,” said AW California Hydropower Specialist, Dave Steindorf.
This added recreation opportunity on the Poe segment will continue to help revitalize the North Fork Feather canyon and provide more summer and fall boating opportunities when other drainages are no longer running at boatable flows.
Discussion is still afoot on how to implement the recreation release schedule. The final development will take place over the next year. Super good news is, the Poe reach will have low boatable flows through most of the winter. “So c’mon out and enjoy the Feather River!” said Steindorf.
The Old Farmers Almanac called for a little precipitation the end of November, a few bits of rain in December, January and February, but doesn’t really have much rain in the forecast until March. Let’s hope those old farmers continue to be off base.