River flooding 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 in 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 a range.”

Currey is a river advocate. He’s been active in the Coal River Group and working toward cleaning up and restoring the watershed in recent years. He studies the Coal River and says it’s fascinating to watch the level of change the river will undergo with each high water event.

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

The three recent floods came on top of an ice jam in late February which carved its on scars into the Coal River shores. Each even changes the river just a little bit. So much change that Currey said it makes it challenging to make plans on their river restoration work. The group has garnered a grant to do some mitigation work which is presently ready to be studied and engineered. Fortunately, the engineers hadn’t started to collect data prior to the floods, because Currey said the work would have been for naught since all of the depths and other measurements prior to the flooding would now be inaccurate.

“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 according to Currey is you’re 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.