High water a way of life on Coal River

TORNADO, W.Va. — For a third time in less than a month Bill Currey sat on his porch Wednesday and watched the coal river transform before his very eyes.

“I think this would classify as three 100-year floods in a little over 30 days,” Currey said. “If you live like I do in the river, you notice when you’re hitting in that high of a range.”

A river advocate, Currey has been active in the Coal River Group and working toward cleaning up and restoring the watershed in recent years. He studies the River and said it’s fascinating to watch the levels change through each high-water event.

“Each flood is different,” he said. “They flow at different rates, so you notice the speed of the river and they contain different levels of sand or sediment. They bring different things down with them depending on how early in the spring it is. Boats, docks, not so much trash anymore, but lots of wood.”

The three recent floods came on top of an ice jam in late February that carved its on scars into the Coal River shores.

Currey said the changes make it challenging to plans for river restoration work. The group has garnered a grant to perform mitigation work, which is presently ready to be studied and engineered. Currey was thankful engineers hadn’t started to collect data before the floods, which would have rendered all the pre-flood measurements inaccurate and useless.

“The first flood we had left a huge amount of white sand throughout the watershed. All 88 miles of the river had white sand beaches like Myrtle Beach,” he said. “A lot of it has been washed away now or covered up with mud, but we don’t know where that white sand came from.”

The only constant about living on the Coal River, he said, is your dock is never safe.

“Docks wash away and river people never tire of building new docks,” he said. “It’s a never-ending game for river rats trying to figure out what kind of dock can I built that will stay there for more than a year.”

Currey said even as the water of the most recent event was beginning to recede, plans are already being made a kitchen tables up and down the watershed for the next series of docks to be erected as summer approaches.

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