Weekend Water Releases Will Improve Recreation Opportunities on the Smith River
The Dan River Basin Association (DRBA), in partnership with Henry County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation Tourism Division would like to thank Dominion Virginia Power for facilitating a temporary modification to the generation schedule at Philpott dam on the Smith River. Dominion announced at a press conference today, that it will modify the schedule to allow for hydro power generation on Saturday and Sunday through December, 2015. This economic development action will boost recreation on the Smith River while continuing to supply customer demands for hydro power.
In cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an agreement was reached to adjust the power generation schedule to include weekends through the end of December. This schedule will allow boaters to access sections of river that historically are not utilized for paddling during the weekends due to lower water levels. Additional flows through the weekend will also provide for more consistent temperatures which can be beneficial to the fishery. This is the first step in working with all the key stakeholders to fully utilize the Smith River as an economic engine for Henry County and to boost tourism in the region.
The hydro power operations at Philpott Lake are primarily utilized for “peak power” needs and as a result, the bulk of power generation is scheduled from Monday through Friday when demands are higher. DRBA has been working with stakeholder groups to gain support for weekend generation for over 7 years and today’s announcement reflects the historic nature of the partnerships that made this decision possible. A meeting was held on August 11, facilitated by the office of Congressman Morgan Griffith (VA-09). Working with DRBA, Michelle Jenkins, District Director for Congressman Griffith, gathered representatives from Senator Kaine, Senator Warner and Congressman Hurt’s office, Dominion Representatives, Henry County Officials, representatives from MHC tourism and local representatives from river user groups. For the past 8 years, DRBA has requested and received a special water generation event for the annual Smith River Fest and each year Dominion has facilitated this request. In 2010, working with Senator Warner’s office, an adjustment was made to the schedule which allowed for Saturday generation to help boost tourism on the river. DRBA staff began collecting user data and stakeholder feedback to better understand the effects of the generations schedule change to the river environment and how it affected the user groups.
At the recent stakeholder group meeting, Daniel Weekley, VP-Corporate Affairs, Dominion Resources offered that Dominion recognizes the economic benefits of the river and provided that they are willing to make changes that will better serve the needs of the community. He thanked the stakeholder group and commented on the continued effort by Dominion moving forward working with key customers to resolve any future issues.
According to Alan Meekins, Director Electric Market Operations, Dominion Generation, “It was our pleasure to meet and discuss this important issue with all the interested parties. We want to continue to work with the other operational stakeholders of Philpott Hydroelectric Dam. It is Dominion’s intention to continue scheduling weekend generation from Philpott on Saturdays and Sundays at least through December.”
As the Operations Project Manager of Philpott Lake, Craig Rockwell was very pleased to see the positive energy in the group gathering to discuss the important issues of balancing the demands on the Smith River. “The spirit of cooperation that pervaded in the meeting is a key factor in achieving win-win outcomes in negotiations between public, private and non-profit entities. Our environment, quality of life opportunities, the economic health of our community, and the servant of our utility companies all benefited from our convening that day. We commend the collaboration on an effort that will benefit the whole community, and the stakeholders understanding of the pressures on a limited resource.”
Brian Williams, Program Manager of the Dan River Basin Association stated, “I personally appreciate the time and investment for each stakeholder to come together and work on this issue. The weekend generation is already making an impact with the river access ramps seeing heavy use on the weekends from Philpott to Stanleytown. More people than ever are on the river and that is economic development for our community. This coincides with the announcement of our county's award of a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant to begin the implementation phase of the "Small Towns Collaborative" which emphasizes creating a corridor of opportunities based in part on our natural resources and linked by the Smith River and our trails from Bassett to Fieldale. The addition of weekend water is only going to help bolster this effort. We look forward to a continued partnership with Dominion and the Corps working to develop the best flow regime to benefit the health of the river, the fishery, and provide a host of recreational opportunities for our region.”
As a representative of the local paddling community and candidate for the Henry County Board of Supervisors, Andy Parker commented, “This is great for paddlers but an even bigger win for the local economy. DRBA has been working on this for a long time and I'm glad I could help bring the stakeholders together so we could arrive at this successful outcome".
Extended generation through the weekend may hold potential benefits for Henry County as well as they go through the permitting process requesting additional water withdrawal from the river at the Upper Smith River Water Treatment Facility to facilitate demand according to Michael Ward, Public Service Authority. Ultimately, the decisions on water flows in the Smith River will need to be reevaluated on a continual basis to produce the best possible solutions for the health of the river and the benefit of all the stakeholders. DRBA continues working with Dominion and the USACE for solutions that will keep water levels in the Smith over the weekends more conducive to the health of the rivers ecosystem while providing for weekend recreational opportunities.
Stakeholders at the August meeting included:
- Daniel Weekly, VP-Corporate Affairs, Dominion Resources
- Alan Meekins, Director Electric Market Operations, Dominion Generation
- Cathy C Taylor, Dominion, Environmental Services
- Tony Young, P.E., Water Management, Wilmington District, USACE
- Tim Hall, Henry County Administrator
- Dale Wagoner, Deputy County Administrator
- Michael Ward, Henry County Public Service Authority
- Brian Williams, Program Manager, Dan River Basin Association
- Chris Collins, Southern Virginia Regional Director, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
- Isaac Sarver representing Senator Mark Warner
- Linda Green representing Congressman Robert Hurt
- Jennifer Doss, Director of Tourism, MHC
- Larry Hoffman, CHA, environmental consultant to Henry County
- Andy Parker, Paddle Community Representative
The current weekend schedule will continue with 4 hours of operation of one unit (650 cfs) between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. as long as the minimum energy release is declared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the plant is available for operation. By December 1, 2015, Dominion will update this group if the weekend schedules need to be adjusted. The beginning, ending and length of the weekend schedule may be adjusted to factor in changes in the weekly declaration, unit availability or seasonal energy demand considerations.
The Dan River Basin Associations mission is to protect and promotes the cultural and natural resources of the 3,300 square miles included in the Dan River Basin through education, recreation and stewardship.