On June 1, 2016, Colonel Kevin Landers, Commander of the Wilmington District of the US Army Corps of Engineers, signed into regulation a new Water Control Plan for John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir. Under the new plan, the Corps will release up to the previous week’s inflows to the reservoir, up to the maximum capacity of the dam’s generators, to bring Kerr Lake back to the guide curve as quickly as possible. The new regime is called “Quasi-Run- of-River” (QRR) because it simulates natural flows, restricted only by the capacity of the generators.
This new plan will dramatically reduce the frequency and duration of high water in Kerr Lake, making beaches, docks, ramps and campgrounds more useable for longer times and even reducing shoreline erosion. It will also significantly reduce the amount of time downstream timber, farm, and conservation lands are inundated by prolonged flows. It accomplishes this goal by releasing larger volumes of water more quickly during flood control. Because downstream flooding takes time to accumulate, QRR limits the duration and sometimes even the extent of downstream floods. Meanwhile, the Corps will continue to meet its power commitments. As the water passes from Kerr through Lake Gaston and Roanoke Rapids Lake, Dominion Generation regulates the levels of those lakes to comply with limits established in their 2004 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license.
The Nature Conservancy to the Army Corps first proposed this much-needed adjustment to the operating plan for John H. Kerr in 1993. The Corps made it clear that the adjustment could not be implemented without Congressional authorization of a long-term study of the plan’s environmental costs and benefits. The Roanoke River Basin Association and Dominion Generation joined a coalition of stakeholders to advocate for such a study, and after four years of work with Congressional staff from NC and VA, the study was authorized and funded in 2000. The NC Water Resources Division co-directed and co-funded the study. After authorization, RRBA served on several of the study task forces and tirelessly advocated for the QRR option.
There were many times when it looked like the study would never be completed, or that it might result in advocating the status quo. But scientific data and models made all the difference. RRBA is especially grateful to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the NC Wildlife Resources Agency, the NC Water Resources Division and the NC Nature Conservancy for their support of science-based evaluation and decision-making.
So this is a very big day for all the stakeholders who live, work, and recreate from the headwaters of John H. Kerr to the mouth of the mighty Roanoke on Albemarle Sound. It’s a big day for boaters, hunters, anglers, campers, farmers, timber managers, and conservation advocates. It’s a big day for basin counties, riverside towns, and businesses. It’s a win-win- win…! It’s been a long time coming.