The Ocoee River in Tennessee is one of the only places in the world where an average rafter can be an Olympian for a day. This river hosted the whitewater events during the Olympic Games in 1996 and has been a popular rafting destination ever since. Sadly, it is in danger of being significantly diminished or even lost completely to rafters in just a few short years.
Why the Ocoee River is in Danger
After October 2018, whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River could come to a standstill unless a plan to preserve releases at a frequency and at cost levels that justify investment by quality outfitted services is developed.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, manages the three Ocoee dams. In addition to generating power, these dams also make the Ocoee one of the best rivers for rafting in the southeastern US. Both the rafting area and whitewater course are fed by regular releases of water from the TVA’s dams.
The TVA Board of Directors is responsible for setting the terms and conditions for Ocoee water releases. Because the TVA is not subject to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing, these terms and conditions are only influenced by political support and federal legislation for whitewater recreation.
Rafting outfitters, such as Rolling Thunder River Co., are required to pay the TVA as reimbursement for lost power when water is released. Currently the TVA is collecting $1.8 million annually from over 25 outfitters, and terms are to be renegotiated every five years. TVA now wants $9 million to renew the contract to secure releases for the next five years. Since the terms are to be renegotiated every five years, this creates an ongoing cycle of uncertainty and rising fees for rafters.
What’s Currently at Stake?
The effects of losing the Ocoee River extend well beyond the loss of one of the nation’s most popular whitewater destinations. Within 60 miles of the river, $43 million in economic benefits will be lost, and the equivalent of 622 full-time jobs will be eliminated.
How You Can Help
The best solution for this situation is for legislation to require the Tennessee Valley Authority board to designate the Ocoee No. 2 and No. 3 as multi-purpose projects including whitewater recreation as a project purpose. This will force the TVA to consider rafters and the economic boost they provide to the local community.
You can help by urging members of Congress to enact legislation that forces the Tennessee Valley Authority to make whitewater recreation a designated purpose of the Ocoee No. 2 and Ocoee No. 3 projects and requires the TVA to provide water releases that are consistent with the current schedule for the life of the Ocoee No. 2 project. You can do this by sending a letter to Congress here.
From all of us here at Rolling Thunder River Company thank you for your support in preserving this remarkable recreation area.