Great Falls Catawba Update – See You in March!

Published 1/10/2023  |  American Whitewater

Following 20 years of work, American Whitewater and our partners are in the final push to have the Great Falls of the Catawba ready for flow restoration and paddling this March. We are confident releases will start in March and conditions will be prime to visit the river thereafter. In the interim few weeks we ask that paddlers please refrain from paddling the river to allow for important hazard-removal and trail work to happen in and around the river. Below is an update on where things stand in this unique river restoration project.

Releases: In the next month or so American Whitewater will be meeting with Duke Energy and other stakeholders to schedule the recreation releases on the Great Falls.

  • The Long Channel will see 2,940cfs releases, from 10am to 3pm, two Saturdays per month and a total of 4 Sundays, March 1 – October 31. In addition, there will be a boatable continuous base flow of 850cfs February 15 – May 15, and 450cfs the rest of the year.
  • The Short Channel will see a new 100cfs base flow restored to the river, plus 2,860cfs recreational releases from 10am to 3pm, One Saturday per month in March and April, plus 2 weekends (Saturday and Sunday) per month from May 1 – October 31.

This adds up to a lot of recreational opportunities! We’ll post the schedule as soon as we nail it down. Between now and then flow will be highly variable including prolonged and sudden periods of no flow to support ongoing work.

Constructed Boating Channels: Duke Energy has worked with S2O design on the creation of two innovative man-made channels that allow water and paddlers to flow from the reservoir over the diversion dam into the Long Channel. There is a small (400cfs) sinuous channel with 8 wave/holes that is optimized during recreational releases and is dry at lower flows; and there is a large (2500cfs) channel with 3-4 wave/holes that is optimized for passage and easy surfing at base flows, and offers large powerful whitewater features at release flows. These channels are not open to the public yet and are still being worked on. They need work to remove objective hazards – some of which are submerged and not obvious – prior to use. This work is happening over the next few weeks. They are going to be awesome when finished. Please do not paddle these structures until they are opened in March.

Trails and Access Areas: Trail and access construction is nearing completion but there is still work being done on-site, including heavy equipment operation. This is especially true on the portage around the Short Channel diversion dam, where stairs will be under construction over the next two months.

Trees: Volunteers will be doing some targeted tree removal on the right hand side of the Long Channel over the next few weeks. Outflow from the constructed boating channels focuses significant flow in this area and more work is needed to improve the safety of passage. Because the river has been dewatered for over 100 years, there are trees growing in the active channel that merit some special attention prior to paddling use.

Search and Rescue: The local search and rescue squads are working to get ready to assist any paddlers that need help, and are going to need some time before the first releases to begin their training on the river. They have asked for some time to prepare.

We are very excited to bring the Great Falls back to life in March, and hope to see paddlers enjoying the river this year and for decades to come. The man-made channels are going to be an incredible asset to the paddling community, as will the river reaches and trails downstream. Thanks in advance for giving the work crews and local stakeholders a few more weeks without paddlers showing up.

By Kevin Colburn

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