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Roanoke River, North Carolina & Virginia

Incorporating sustainability into broader efforts

The Roanoke is one of the largest rivers on the eastern slope of North America. It provides habitat for a vast unfragmented system of bottomland hardwood forests and a diverse population of fishes.

The Corps is examining possible modifications to the operations of John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir on the Roanoke. Corps and Conservancy staff and other stakeholders are helping to define environmental strategies as part of water management plans. The goal is to enact an adaptive management policy for the river that supports the continual use of scientific knowledge in water release decisions.

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Roanoke River

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The Roanoke River flows over 400 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Albemarle Sound, encompassing a drainage area of about 9600 square miles. The Upper and Middle Roanoke Basin are highly regulated, with multiple private and USACE‐owned reservoirs on the Roanoke River and its tributaries. The lower Roanoke River flows through a floodplain of “national significance, containing “the largest in-tact and least disturbed bottomland hardwood and cypresstupelo ecosystems on the Atlantic Coast of America.

The US Army Corps of Engineers owns and manages two hydropower projects in the Roanoke Basin – Philpott Reservoir on the Smith River and John H. Kerr Reservoir on the Roanoke River. Both are multipurpose reservoirs, with their primary purposes being flood control and hydropower. Kerr has recently adopted revised flood operations for the benefit of the downstream ecosystem. Concerns that flood operations at John H. Kerr Reservoir were degrading the downstream bottomland hardwood ecosystem. This initial engagement initiated over two decades of efforts to identify a solution. 

Backed by 15 years of study, the water control plan revision was initiated through an Environmental Assessment, and necessary public coordination in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Following the public involvement process, a Finding of No Significant Impact was issued and the revised water control plan was approved by South Atlantic Division in June 2016.

A Quasi-Run-of-River management alternative shifts the structure of the flood control operations defined in the Water Control Plan to employ outflows that more closely mimic inflows, resulting in a downstream flow regime more resembling natural river flow while still supporting flood control and hydropower missions.

  • Section 216 Feasibility Study (Section 216 of Public Law 91‐611, the River and Harbor and Flood Control Act of 1970)
  • Water Control Plan revision (authority provided by ER 1110‐2‐240)
  • State of North Carolina 
  • Commonwealth of Virginia
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • US Geological Survey
  • Dominion Energy
  • NCDENR
  • VADEQ
  • NCWRC
  • VADGIF
  • SEPA
  • NOAA
  • NMFS
  • NCDACS

Publications

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TitleSiteDate
Roanoke - Socio-economic benefitsRoanoke River2015
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