The Dickerson Whitewater Course, on the Potomac River near Dickerson, Maryland, was built for use by canoe and kayak paddlers training for the 1992 Olympic Games in Spain. It was the first pump-powered artificial whitewater course built in North America, and is still the only one anywhere with heated water. It remains an active training center for whitewater slalom racing, swiftwater rescue training, and other whitewater activities.
The facility is owned by the NRG Energy company. Except during special events, access requires membership in the Potomac Whitewater Racing Center, a USA Canoe/Kayak National Training Center.
The course was constructed in 1991, inside a pre-existing straight, 900-foot (270 m)-long concrete channel, 40 feet (12 m) wide. Since 1959, the channel has returned cooling water from the Dickerson Generating Station to the Potomac River, 41 miles (66 km) upstream from Washington, D.C. Water is pumped from the river, warmed as much as 35 °F (20 °C) as it cools the power plant’s three coal-fired generators, and then emptied into the channel for gravity flow back to the river. (The plant has three other generators which use a different cooling system.)
Streamflow through the course is 200 cu ft/s (5.7 m3/s) to 600 cu ft/s (17 m3/s), depending on the operation of the plant’s three coal-fired generators and their six cooling water pumps. In the summer months, when water temperature in the channel exceeds 100 °F (38 °C), the course is closed for health reasons. It is also closed when the Potomac River rises above 5 feet (1.5 m) on the Little Falls gauge 20,000 cu ft/s (570 m3/s), flooding the lower section of the course.