Gauges 101 - The New River (WV)

by Chuck Brabec

Introduction

This document is an attempt to help boaters understand the overall hydrology of the New River in West Virginia and, hopefully, give them an understanding of how to interpret the various USGS gauges. The information is based on my personal knowledge of the New River Watershed, my observations over the past 10-15 years and comments from others in the paddling community.

Note: This is a work in progress. You can find the most recent version at www.thebrabecs.com/Gauges_101_New.htm.

Please send any feedback to me at chuck@thebrabecs.com.

Watershed Overview

The headwaters of the New River begin in the mountains of North Carolina. The river flows through Virginia before entering West Virginia near Glen Lyn. VA. The New is joined by the Bluestone River at Bluestone Lake. The Greenbrier River joins the New a mile or so below Bluestone Dam. Just down river is Hinton, WV. Several smaller streams add their water to the New on its way downstream to Gauley Bridge, WV where it merges with the Gauley River and becomes the Kanawha River. You can view a map of the river at www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/upload/NERI_ParkMap.pdf. You can also trace the entire watershed at nationalatlas.gov/streamer/Streamer/streamer.html.

The major sections of the New River below Bluestone Dam are generally described as the "Upper New", "Lower New" and "The Dries". The Upper New begins at the confluence of the Greenbrier and New rivers and continues downstream to Thurmond (sections 10-12 of the New River on the American Whitewater river page for West Virginia). The Lower New includes begins at Thurmond and ends at Fayette Station (sections 13 & 14 on the AW page). The Dries (section 15) begins below Hawks Nest Dam and goes to the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers.

The American Whitewater rivers page can be found at http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River_state-summary_state_WV_.

The flow on the Upper and Lower New is determined largely by the how much water is released from Bluestone Dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) plus how much water is flowing into the New from the Greenbrier River. However, heavy rain in Fayette and Raleigh counties can mean short lived high water on the Lower New. I have seen levels on the Upper New (Thurmond) at 0 or lower and had flows over 2 feet at the Fayette. That type of high water is short lived though.

The flow on the New River Dries is determined by how much water is coming through (or over) Hawks Nest Dam. The bypass tunnel at Hawks Nest Dam diverts up to 10,000 cfs from the New River; thus "The Dries" is often a very appropriate name.

Determining the level/flow on the Upper and Lower New

The most important gauges for determining how much water is currently coming down the New River are the USGS gauges near Hinton, WV and near Thurmond, WV. The gauge at Hinton shows what was very recently been released from Bluestone Dam plus what flowed in from the Greenbrier River. This is the best gauge for determining the current flow for the Upper New. The gauge at Thurmond is the best indicator of how much water is in New River Gorge (the Lower New). You can estimate how much water will be in New River Gorge tomorrow by looking at the flow at Hinton this evening.

Those who paddle NRG have traditionally used the level (in feet) on the Paddlers Gauge at Fayette Station as their guide for NRG. You can view the level and flows at Hinton and Thurmond and see the relative levels at Fayette Station by going to the NRG Conversion page at www.usawildwater.com/nrg.html.

There is only a 4 foot difference between winter and summer elevations at Bluestone Lake (1406' vs. 1410'). The COE generally uses the "what comes in goes out" rule to determine how much water to release from Bluestone Dam. You can figure out how much water is (or will be) coming in to Bluestone lake by looking at the USGS gauges on the New at Radford, VA and Glen Lyn, VA as well as the USGS gauge on the Bluestone at Pipestem. Then check the COE website to see how much water is currently being released from Bluestone Dam. If there is significantly more water coming in than is currently being released, the COE will most likely increase the release from Bluestone Dam. If the release is greater than the inflow, the COE will most likely decrease the release from Bluestone Dam.

During significant rainfalls, the COE may hold back water at Bluestone Dam to prevent flooding downstream. This is especially true when the Meadow and/or Gauley Rivers are also high. This is also the time when many of the creeks in Fayette and Raleigh counties can be adding a lot of water to the flow below Thurmond. During these times, there can be a significant difference between the information from the gauge at Thurmond and the one at Fayette Station.

Don't forget that the Greenbrier River enters the New River just below Bluestone Dam, so the USGS gauge at Hinton (and how much water is, or will be, in the Upper and Lower New) can be significantly higher than what is being released from Bluestone Dam.

Determining the level/flow in the New River Dries

The "rule of thumb" for determining the flow in the New River Dries is to take the flow (cfs) from the USGS gauge at Thurmond and subtract 10,000 cfs (the maximum that can be diverted through the tunnel at Hawks Nest Dam). During periods of significant rainfall, Laurel Creek and other smaller creeks can add a lot of water to the New. Also, the COE sometimes diverts less than the maximum (10,000 cfs) from Hawks Nest Dam.

Another way to estimate the flow in the Dries is to take the flow on the Kanawha at Kanawha Falls, subtract 10,000 cfs (the maximum that can be diverted through the tunnel at Hawks Nest Dam) and the flow from the Gauley River at Belva. For example, if the flow at Kanawha Falls is 13,400 cfs and the flow at Belva on the Gauley is 2,280 cfs, the estimated flow on the Dries is 1,120 cfs (13400-10000-2280).

There is a relatively new USGS gauge just below Hawks Nest Dam, but it only shows the level (feet), not the flow (cfs).


Resources

USGS Gauges

Site/URL Location
03171000 NEW RIVER AT RADFORD, VA
03179000 BLUESTONE RIVER NEAR PIPESTEM, WV
03183500 GREENBRIER RIVER AT ALDERSON, WV
03184000 GREENBRIER RIVER AT HILLDALE, WV
03184500 NEW RIVER AT HINTON, WV
03185400 NEW RIVER AT THURMOND, WV
03193000 KANAWHA RIVER AT KANAWHA FALLS, WV
03192000 GAULEY RIVER ABOVE BELVA, WV
380649081083301 NEW RIVER BELOW HAWKS NEST DAM, WV

Other Web Sites

URL Description
www.thebrabecs.com/nrg.html NRG Conversion (using the info from the COE and USGS gauges)
www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/upload/NERI_ParkMap.pdf Map - New River Gorge National River
www.lrh-wc.usace.army.mil/wc/whitewater.html COE (Huntington) - Latest River and Lake Data
www.lrh-wc.usace.army.mil/wc/wwsched.html COE (Huntington) - Whitewater Schedule of Releases (during the fall draw-down)
waterdata.usgs.gov/wv/nwis/current/?type=flow&group_key=huc_cd USGS Real-Time Data (includes all USGS gauges for WestVirginia)
www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River_state-summary_state_WV_ AW River Summary (for all WV rivers in the AW database)
http://water.weather.gov/afws/county.php?state=WV West Virginia Rainfall Totals from NOAA's Flood Warning System
www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/qpf/p120i00.gif NOAA 5-Day Precipitation Forecast
nationalatlas.gov/streamer/Streamer/streamer.html National River Atlas (to trace rivers upstream and downstream)

Guide Books

"A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to West Virginia" (formerly Wildwater West Virginia)
by Paul Davidson, Ward Eister, Dirk Davidson; Revised and Edited by Charlie Walbridge with Bobby Miller and Turner Sharp

"Whitewater Treasures of the New and Gauley"
by BJ and Katie Johnson