Water, water... everywhere?
A rafting and tubing outfitter on the upper Tuckasegee River in Jackson County claims he is being slighted in a tug-of-war over water flows that favor rafting companies downstream.
Duke Power manipulates the flow of water in the Tuckasegee River by opening and closing the gates on hydropower dams on the upper forks of the river. When water is released, it makes for prime floating conditions. When Duke holds the water back, the river is too low to support floating, whether it’s rafts, tubes or fishing boats.
Most outfitters on the Tuck start float trips at a launch site in Dillsboro and exit the river about three hours downstream. Water releases are timed to benefit the rafting companies on this lower stretch of the river.
But one lone outfitter, TJ Kruger of TJ’s Whitewater Adventures, is located about 20 miles upstream. The water releases flow down his stretch of the river in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning — not exactly prime floating time.
“They guarantee them water,” Kruger said of the outfitters on the lower stretch of the river. “The only time we end up with water up here is special occasions when there is an abundance of rain.”
Kruger wants Duke to revamp its flow schedule to support floating in the upper stretch of the river as well. This would take away water from the lower Tuck, however, and hurt the established rafting industry, said James Jackson with Tuckaseegee Outfitters.
Rafting companies have been concentrated on the lower Tuckaseegee since 1988 when Jackson was the first to set up shop. Kruger came to town just three years ago and chose to locate on the upper Tuck. Jackson said it would be unfair to the rest of the rafting industry to alter the flow schedule to accommodate Kruger at the expense of the four raft companies downstream. Jackson said he was speaking on behalf of the other rafting companies, who belong to a river association.
It takes about eight hours for water released from the dams on the upper forks of the Tuck to reach Dillsboro. Duke generally releases water in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning, supplying the primary floating stretch of the river with water from morning until late afternoon.
It only takes an hour for the water to hit Kruger. Water released from the dams in the middle of the night has come and gone by the morning, leaving Kruger’s stretch of river without enough water for floating.
Kruger has filed complaints with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which could make Duke readjust water flows on the Tuckasegee. Duke is currently seeking new permits to operate its dams on the Tuckasegee. The permit will require Duke to make water available for floating. The schedule for water releases will be mandated in the permit. The permit will be good for 30 to 40 years. Once the water schedule is decided, the area will be stuck with it for a long time, Kruger said.
The rafting companies centered around Dillsboro have been working with Duke for five years to design a flow schedule on the river that is mutually agreeable to a plethora of interests. In addition to appeasing rafting companies, water releases also have to suit fly fishermen who prefer slightly lower river levels. Under the current arrangement, water levels in the upper Tuckasegee drop by mid-morning as the swell of water released from the dams moves downstream, allowing for fly fishing on the upper Tuck and rafting on the lower Tuck.
“Right now we have negotiated an arrangement where the fishermen have a situation where they are satisfied with,” Jackson said. “They are like us. They don’t love it, but they are satisfied with it.”
Kruger pointed out that float fishermen who fish from boats rather than wading prefer slightly higher water. Meanwhile, environmentalists concerned with aquatic habitat would prefer river levels to remain as constant as possible, as fluctuation could confuse females about where to lay eggs and interrupt hatching. And Duke Power’s interests in generating power also must be factored into the flow schedule.
The schedule was hammered out over a five-year period, with Krueger jumping in only in the past couple of years after an agreement between all the interests was already reached.
“He just showed up a little too late,” Jackson said,
Kruger said he represents more than his own interests. Three petitions at convenience stores along the upper Tuck collected 242 signatures in support of more daytime water for the upper Tuck. Myriad large developments cropping up in southern Jackson, such as Bear Lake Reserve, will contribute to demand for water in the upper Tuck during the day.
“It is more than just myself that would use that water. All these people are going to want something to do up here,” Krueger said of the growth. “This whole area up here could just blossom.”
When rains provides enough water for extra releases on the East Fork, kayakers enjoy play paddling in a section below Cedar Cliff dam known as The Slab, Kruger said. Kruger also cited use of the upper Tuck and East Fork by Western Carolina University students and a large Girl Scout camp in Cashiers.
According to Kruger, Duke said there was not enough recreational demand on the upper Tuckasegee to justify a shift in the flows. Kruger disputed that logic. There is a demand, he said, the water is simply not provided to realize that demand.
“How can it if there is no water up there?” Kruger asked.
The Tuckasegee River is fed by an east and west fork. The West Fork is home to Lake Glenville and the East Fork is home to a string of four small lakes. Currently water is released from all five dams simultaneously during the night to support floating on the lower Tuck. Instead, Kruger suggests staggering the releases. It would mean more consistent water levels in the river rather than an eight-hour swell of water moving downstream and hitting the lower Tuck during prime floating hours.
But Jackson said staggered releases wouldn’t provide enough water to support rafting on the lower Tuck.
“That would be excellent for him but it would not be good for us,” Jackson said.
Rafting companies on the lower Tuck have worked hard to build a reputation for the Tuckasegee. They have succeeded in recent years in turning the lower Tuck into a tourist destination for float trips. Altering the flows at this stage could compromise the industry and hurt the whole county, Jackson said.
“Last year we took in excess of 20,000 people down the river between all the rafting companies,” Jackson said.