TVA officials say lower water levels could lead to navigation hazards on some reservoirs this summer. David Grace photo.
KINGSPORT — Last year, the Tennessee Valley Authority had way too much water from rain and snow.
TVA experienced record high lake levels in early 2013 and moved enough water through its reservoir system to avert an estimated $800 million in flood damage.
But this year, three area TVA reservoirs — Norris, Cherokee and South Holston — will need extra rainfall to get to full summer pool levels, TVA officials said during a swing through Northeast Tennessee on Wednesday.
"It's mainly to do with the lack of rainfall in those watersheds. ... The areas that drain into those lakes haven't gotten as much rainfall as the remainder of the tributary reservoirs," TVA Senior River Forecast Manager Tom Barnett observed.
As of March 15, Norris was at 50 percent of normal water runoff, Cherokee was at 49 percent and South Holston was at 57 percent, according to TVA.
That means lower-than-normal water levels, exposed banks and shallow areas at those reservoirs as the summer recreation season begins.
"At South Holston, there's still more water in the lake than there is during the winter," Barnett noted. "At Cherokee and Norris, you'll see more of a brown ring around the reservoir, and there's more navigation hazards, more sand bars, and more stumps that might be submerged. ... We're urging people to exercise caution, especially if they are unfamiliar with the lakes. ... It could be a hot, dry summer."
In the Kingsport area, TVA said the Boone and Fort Patrick Henry reservoirs should experience their normal full summer pool levels. Watauga Lake in Carter and Johnson counties is already a foot above full summer pool, according to TVA.
The overall reservoir water quality, Barnett added, remains good in general.
Still, with the potential for more exposed shoreline, TVA officials called for more public awareness and preservation of an estimated 11,500 archaeological sites on TVA managed land.
"Those sites include Native American areas, caves, rock shelters, Civil War sites, and early homestead sites from where TVA came in and built the reservoir," TVA Archaeologist Erin Pritchard explained. "When the water level is down, people see this stuff, it's part of history and they sometimes will pick stuff up and take it home or dig on the site. ... We used to allow metal detecting on TVA land, but we no longer do that."
The sites are protected under federal law, and it is a crime to damage and remove artifacts, according to TVA.
TVA's summer recreation season typically runs June 1 through Labor Day. Lake levels go down afterward.
To report someone digging on TVA land, call 1-855-476-2489.
To ask an environmental question, call 1-800-882-5263.
For more about TVA go to www.tva.gov.