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Keeping you informed

After several decades of leadership to the Roanoke River Basin, President Gene Addesso announced his retirement at the end of 2015.

After some 14 years of effort by the RRBA and other major stakeholders in the Basin, we are happy to report the 216 Study at Kerr Lake has finally been terminated. Since the only activity left in the study was the potential improvement to Water Flow Operations, the USACE determined that a change of that kind, requiring no capital expenditures, could be implemented by just gaining approval of a change to the Kerr Lake Water Control Plan.

We are proud to inform you that the change going forward for approval was one of about 6 options put up for analysis and was submitted by the RRBA. After considerable modeling and analysis the option became known as “Quasi Run of the River” or QRR.

The QRR Alternative would result in a change to operations during very wet periods such that Kerr Reservoir would operate more frequently at its designed flood release, which is also its turbine capacity of 35,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This change will significantly reduce the duration of high water events in Kerr Lake and the duration of downstream flooding, make more flood storage capacity available to control large floods, and maintain more stable reservoir levels. Additionally the benefits for downstream landowners are as follows:

According to recent research, continuing with the existing management will so severely impact the ability of valuable hardwood species (e.g., oaks, hickories) to reproduce that they will gradually disappear from most of the floodplain, being replaced by low-value species like red maple and sweet gum. Reducing flood durations on timberlands in the QRR Alternative will greatly reduce this severe economic impact and help maintain these valuable timber types.

Sustained growing season floods under existing operations inhibit reproduction of ground-nesting and ground-foraging birds, e.g., quail and wild turkey, and other species, such as box turtles, deer and rabbit, which are driven off flooded lands by the high water. QRR will significantly reduce the loss of diversity and abundance of wildlife species that the current Kerr Lake operating policy is causing in the Lower Roanoke.

Reducing the duration of floods by about 50% with the QRR Alternative will reduce the frequency and severity of bank collapse, preventing further degradation of fish and aquatic habitat and reducing the rate of shoreline land loss.

By substantially reducing high water periods that block access to the floodplain, QRR will significantly increase angler, hunter and outdoor enthusiast use of the floodplain and the associated economic benefits.

Please also be aware of the fact that QRR has no impact on the management of Lake Gaston water levels which are controlled by the FERC license with Dominion Power.

Status of QRR Implementation

The USACE (Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District completed public review on the Environmental Assessment for the Water Control Plan revision on January 29th, after public meetings and a written comment period Thanks to all of you who attended the public meeting in Williamston on the 11th of January. We had good representation there. The Corps has also received quite a few comments via email and written letter, most of which fell into a number of overall broad groupings for response. Their team is proceeding with finalization of the Water Control Plan documentation and the target date for submittal of the Water Control Plan revision and the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to the South Atlantic Division office is now April 25th. This accounts for the time required to organize and prepare responses to public input. The Corps reported they are getting close to the finish line – and stakeholder groups assistance, enthusiasm and support has been appreciated as they work to move forward with the recommendation for QRR implementation.

Following the Dan River Coal spill in the winter of 2014 the Roanoke River Basin Association took immediate action to participate by monitoring, advising and involvement in the efforts to clean-up and mitigate the impact of Dan River Spill. Additionally we began to advocate for the prevention of future coal ash spills in all the waters of the Basin by supporting efforts aimed at elimination of unlined storage of coal ash in and around Basin Rivers, specifically sites at Lake Mayo, Hyco Lake at Roxboro, and Belews Creek. Contamination and spills at these lakes would seriously damage both ground water and surface water of tributaries that flow into main rivers and lakes in the Roanoke River Basin.

To this end, in May 2014 we intervened in a law suit filed by NC DENR against Duke Energy by which the court allowed us as a public citizen’s group to join the case as a plaintiff with full rights of participation in the suit to enforce the law against Duke Energy at the Dan River site. We have been working to secure a binding commitment to ensure a full cleanup of the Dan River site and removal of the ash to safer dry, lined storage away from public water supplies. In October 2014, we also moved to intervene in the enforcement actions as to the Mayo and Roxboro sites within the Roanoke basin, and that motion has been granted with full rights of participation as well. Our attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) have served Duke and DENR with discovery requests on those two sites to obtain documents and deposition testimony to ensure vigorous enforcement in the state action and develop any additional federal claims arising from Duke’s coal ash pollution and risks to the lakes and rivers where these coal ash lagoons are located.

Since then the SELC has been extremely active in accomplishing and representing us in the following areas:

  • 1) Winning a court victory that will result in a binding, court-ordered cleanup of the Dan River site as well as six other sites across North Carolina.
  • 2) Commissioning expert reports on the Mayo and Roxboro sites to strengthen our enforcement cases.
  • 3) Advocating for cleanups at Mayo and Roxboro in the coal ash prioritization process established by the N.C. Coal Ash Management Act by drafting comments for RRBA, participating in public hearings, organizing and drafting action alerts with other partner groups.
  • 4) Taking depositions and obtaining internal documents from Duke and DENR (now called DEQ) as part of the discovery process, and obtaining additional documents from federal agencies through FOIA requests.
  • 5) Drafting opinion pieces and letters to the editor to spread the word and advocate for cleanups at these sites.

Lastly, even though SELC is representing us pro bono, we may have substantial financial expenses in this matter. Therefore, we are asking you to join us in this campaign to defend our rivers and lakes. Please become a member of Roanoke River Basin Association, and donate as much as you feel appropriate. We are a 501 C ( 3) organization, and you can easily join us and/or donate on our website. If any you are already a member, thank you for your ongoing support any financial help you can give at this crucial time.

A Prospective on Government Regulation Reliance

Considering the issue of the lifting of the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia, one must ponder the outcome if that was to occur. Obviously we would have to rely on the series of Federal and States regulations and enforcement agencies to protect the health and safety of the environment and people exposed.

Canoeing, Hiking, Adventure! Upper Reach, Roanoke River Basin Association