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Chelan River Gorge Kayakers On Their Own 4/7/2011
The State Legislature has agreed to change the law to better protect the Chelan County PUD from liability if kayakers get injured while running the treacherous Chelan River Gorge.

Lawmakers Friday approved a bill presented by Sen. Linda Evans Parlette that changes the language in the state’s Recreational Use Statute.

The revised language exempts owners or operators of hydroelectric dams from liability for injuries that could occur when they make waterways available for kayaking, canoeing or rafting — even if warning signs aren’t posted.

The existing law protects property owners who post signs warning of latent dangers on their lands. Framed by steep cliffs, the treacherous and inaccessible nature of Chelan Gorge makes it impossible to place effective warning signs, PUD officials have said.

The Chelan River has a year-round low flow of water. The PUD’s federal license to operate Lake Chelan Dam requires it to spill additional water from the dam during specified weekends in July and September to increase flow for recreational kayaking.

On its downhill route, river flows through a short but rugged gorge, where increased water volume produces Class 5 rapids — considered navigable only by experts.

Since the license-mandated kayaking events began in 2009, PUD officials have obliged kayakers to sign a waiver that releases the utility from responsibility if they become injured.