Elk River (West Virginia)

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Elk River
Elk River Charleston.jpg
Elk River in Charleston.
Elk River WV map.png
A map of the Elk River and its watershed.
CountryUnited States
StateWest Virginia
CountiesPocahontas, Randolph, Webster, Braxton, Clay, Kanawha
Physical characteristics
SourceOld Field Fork
 - locationElk Mountain, Pocahontas County
 - coordinates38°18′24″N 80°06′18″W / 38.30667°N 80.10500°W / 38.30667; -80.10500
 - elevation3,557 ft (1,084 m)[1]
2nd sourceBig Spring Fork
 - locationPocahontas County
 - coordinates38°22′32″N 80°00′34″W / 38.37556°N 80.00944°W / 38.37556; -80.00944
 - elevation3,655 ft (1,114 m)[2]
Source confluence 
 - locationSlatyfork
 - coordinates38°25′08″N 80°07′48″W / 38.41889°N 80.13000°W / 38.41889; -80.13000
 - elevation2,667 ft (813 m)[6]
MouthKanawha River[3]
 - location
 - coordinates
38°21′18″N 81°38′42″W / 38.35500°N 81.64500°W / 38.35500; -81.64500Coordinates: 38°21′18″N 81°38′42″W / 38.35500°N 81.64500°W / 38.35500; -81.64500
 - elevation
574 ft (175 m)
Length172 mi (277 km)[4]
 - locationQueen Shoals[5]
 - average2,650 cu ft/s (75 m3/s)[5]
 - minimum271 cu ft/s (7.7 m3/s)(1976)
 - maximum14,000 cu ft/s (400 m3/s)(1972)
Basin features
 - leftBirch River
 - rightHolly River

The Elk River is a tributary of the Kanawha River, 172 miles (277 km) long,[4] in central West Virginia in the United States. Via the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, it is part of the watershed of the Mississippi River.


The Elk is formed in the Allegheny Mountains in Pocahontas County by the confluence of two short streams, the Big Spring Fork and the Old Field Fork, which join near the community of Slatyfork. It flows above ground for several miles before it sinks into a network of caverns and flows underground for more than five miles. The old riverbed of solid rock, however, remains above ground in this section known as "The Dries." It follows a generally westward course across the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau, through Randolph, Webster, Braxton, Clay, and Kanawha Counties, past the towns of Webster Springs, Sutton, Gassaway, Clay, Clendenin, and Elkview before joining the Kanawha River at Charleston.

At Sutton, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concrete dam causes the Elk to form Sutton Lake.

The Elk's largest tributaries are the Holly River and the Birch River, both of which join it in Braxton County.

The upper portion of the river, above Sutton Lake, is a popular coldwater trout stream. Some reports of a 2013 Wake Forest University study of selenium contamination in Sutton Lake in North Carolina (allegedly due to coal ash from the Sutton power plant of Duke Energy). erroneously attributed this contamination to Sutton Lake in West Virginia.[7] Sutton Lake in North Carolina is on the Cape Fear River; whereas Sutton Lake in West Virginia is on the Elk River, an entirely different river drainage basin. [8] [9]

Below Sutton Lake, is a high-gradient warmwater fishery well known for its muskellunge, walleye and smallmouth bass fishing. The Elk River serves as the source of water for 1500 miles of pipeline that carry its water to customers in central and southwestern West Virginia.[10]


The river's name most likely comes from the Native Americans of the area, who saw great numbers of elk near the stream.[11]

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Elk River has also been known historically as:

The Elk River near its mouth in Charleston in 2001
  • Pe-quo-ni
  • Pe-quo-ni-cepe
  • Pequoni
  • Tis-chil-waugh
  • Tiskelewah
  • Tiskelwah
  • To-que-man
  • To-qui-min-cepe


Chemical spill[edit]

In January 2014 a spill of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used as a wash component in the coal-preparation process, required West Virginia authorities to supply water to as many as 300,000 people in nine of the state's counties.[12] The effect of the Elk River chemical spill to the critically endangered diamond darter fish, known only to live in the Elk River, is still unknown.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USGS Elevation Query: Old Field Fork Source". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-04-22.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ "USGS Elevation Query: Big Spring Fork Source". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-04-22.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Elk River". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
  4. ^ a b "Columbia Gazetteer of North America: Elk River". Columbia University Press. 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
  5. ^ a b "USGS 03197000 ELK RIVER AT QUEEN SHOALS, WV". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
  6. ^ "USGS Elevation Query: Elk River Source Confluence". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-04-22.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Lemly, A.D., 2013, study for the Southern Environmental Law Center, pdf Archived 2013-12-28 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Charlotte Observer, "Duke's coal ash kills, deforms fish, study says", 12/03/13 [1] Archived 2014-01-10 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Thinkprogress, 12/04/13 [2].
  10. ^ CNN, "In parts of West Virginia, water is only for flushing": retrieved 10 January 2013
  11. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 229.
  12. ^ Washington Post "Chemical spill into W.Va. river spurs closures, run on bottled water" 10 January 2014
  13. ^ Stuart A. Welsh & Robert M. Wood (14 Jan 2008). "Crystallaria cincotta, a new species of darter (Teleostei: Percidae) from the Elk River of the Ohio River drainage, West Virginia". ZOOTAXA ISSN 1175-5334 (online edition) (Magnolia Press) (1680 (2008)): 62–68

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]