Dispute over dam and clean water rules may put reservoir in jeopardy
by Andrew Martin
Few people were happier on Labor Day than the ones who squeezed into packed parking lots in a remote corner of Hyde Park and made the short trek to Green River Reservoir to visit the local treasure.
“It’s amazing out there,” one woman yelled to a friend as she loaded her kayak onto her Subaru.
Many reservoir visitors are regulars; others plan their trips weeks or months ahead of time.
“It’s beautiful. It’s a wilderness lake, and even on a day like today when it’s pretty crowded, it’s still a beautiful, unspoiled body of water,” said Jim Pease, who lives nearby and is one of the regulars.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Reuven Steiberg, who’s from Boston; he and his girlfriend made their first visit to the reservoir during the holiday weekend.
“It’s so nice and quiet,” Steinberg said. “We definitely want to come back and camp.” Friends had told him about the reservoir, and he was surprised that it feels so remote, even though it’s just a few minutes from Morrisville and civilization.
Green River Reservoir reminds him of large, remote lakes he’s visited out West, but getting to those lakes took a lot more than a quick drive and a walk of a few hundred feet to get on the water.
The remote, undeveloped feel of Green River Reservoir makes it stand out among Vermont’s state parks.
“Green River Reservoir State Park is very loved and respected by people. It’s incredibly valuable,” said Craig Whipple, director of Vermont state parks. “It provides an experience that isn’t available at a lot of our parks.”
A park in 1999
Green River Reservoir, a favorite recreational spot for locals for years, became a park in 1999 when the state bought 5,110 acres around the reservoir from the Morrisville Water & Light Department.
The 28 campsites scattered along the shoreline and islands can be reached only by paddling; no gas motors are allowed, although tiny electric motors are permissible. The boating rules are designed to keep the park rural, undeveloped, remote and clean.
There are only a few houses near the 19 miles of shoreline and anyone using the reservoir has to carry out everything they bring in.
“We control the amount of activity at the park to preserve that wild, remote experience,” Whipple said.
But it’s at risk now. A standoff between Morrisville Water & Light, the utility that owns the hydropower dam at the reservoir, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has raised the ugly possibility that the dam could be removed and the reservoir permanently drained.
Losing a treasure?
Officials at Morrisville Water & Light are considering draining Green River Reservoir because they don’t think they can afford to operate the dam under new state regulations.
Those regulations are designed to mimic natural water flow, and would limit how much water can be drained from the reservoir before winter. The draining process allows the utility to produce about one-third of its annual electricity output. Without it, consultants say, the utility will lose nearly $4 million over the next 30 years.
That’s unacceptable for a municipal utility, but state officials aren’t budging.
No dam, no Green River Reservoir.
“The park is entirely dependent on the reservoir,” Whipple said.
Morrisville Water & Light has appealed the state’s requirements for the Green River dam and the other two hydro facilities the utility operates. The appeal could take several years; in the meantime, Water & Light can continue operating the dam under the old standards.
And, perhaps, time will allow a compromise.
State officials say they’re willing to work with Water & Light on creative solutions to keep the dam viable.
“We haven’t had any discussion yet, but we will participate when its appropriate,” Whipple said.
Why people love it
Jim Pease grew up in Eden and has been coming to the reservoir for nearly 30 years. He makes five to 10 trips to the park every year to kayak or canoe, and when his family is in town, they all go camping there.
Jeanne and Ed Tucker split their summers between Stowe and Essex, Conn. When they are in Vermont, they make regular trips to Green River — but not to kayak, canoe or camp. The Tuckers are marathon swimmers and say the reservoir offers some of the best lake swimming they’ve ever seen.
“It’s a quiet, beautiful setting; there are no invasive weeds in the lake,” Ed Tucker said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous water.”
The Tuckers have stopped trying to swim in other local lakes because of those invasive species.
Green River has a special atmosphere, the Tuckers say. Everyone seems to be in a good mood; when they’re swimming, friendly, smiling paddlers constantly stop to say hi and make sure they’re OK.
Ann Bonanno and her partner visit as many state parks as they can every summer but make sure to visit Green River a few times a year. They enjoy the plants and wildlife, and they stop over on Picnic Island at least once each year. While Bonanno is pretty familiar with the 653-acre reservoir, she’s always exploring some new corner of it, which makes it even more fun for her.
“You can’t do it all in one day,” she said.
Morrisville residents Mike and Linda Audy get to the reservoir as often as possible, but not enough, in their view. They think of the reservoir as a part of their own backyard.
Audrey Miller of Eden spends as much time as possible on the reservoir.
“I’m up here every chance I get,” she said. “As a kayaker, it’s really nice to have access to this body of water.” She especially likes the lack of motorboats and watching the seasons change from the water. And the loons make it special.
“It’s always wonderful to see them as chicks and watch them grow until they are ready to leave in the fall,” Miller said.
The Audys say they’re now worried about the future of their favorite state park.
“We really like what they’ve done with it. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” Mike said.
Last year, Green River Reservoir State Park drew 12,718 visitors, up several hundred from 2014. Estimates show those 12,718 visitors spent about $1,120,000 while visiting the park and the surrounding area.
Both those numbers are on the rise, as park visits have steadily increased since 2011. That year there were 10,430 visitors; in 2014, the park topped 12,000 visitors for the first time. This year, the park staff estimates visits are at least on par with 2015.