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TVA bracing for next onslaught of rain

Rick Wagner • Feb 12, 2020 at 8:30 AM

KNOXVILLE  — To say rainfall amounts in the Tennessee Valley recently have been high is like saying the surface of the sun is hot or water is wet.

So dealing with lake and river levels in the Tennessee Valley Authority watershed could be likened to taking a drink from a fire hose, literally, as TVA engineers work to handle the runoff into lakes and streams as best they can with ever-changing forecasts and unexpected changes in actual rainfall amounts. However, to say simply it is wet is an understatement.

“Rainfall over the past seven days is about 550% of normal,” said James Everett, senior manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center in Knoxville.

JUST HOW MUCH RAIN HAS FALLEN?

In the 41,000-square-mile area from Paducah, Kentucky, to the Tri-Cities, Everett told reporters in a conference call Tuesday morning, an average of 6 inches of rain had fallen over the past seven days. However, he said that means some parts of the valley got as little as 4 inches, while others got more than 10.

Tuesday marked a break in the rainfall for much of the region, but Everett said rain is forecast to pick up Wednesday and Thursday with another 1 to 2 inches predicted for the valley on average.

“Rainfall on top of already wet ground” will lead to flooding and flash flooding, he said. Add to that some potential severe weather, and he said you have a strong argument to stay attuned to the weather and flooding situations in your area via TVA and the National Weather Service. He said the NWS is the go-to source for information on local flooding, especially flash flooding, and that river and lake information is available at TVA.com and through a TVA phone app. TVA also posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Everett also cautioned boaters to be careful of the floating debris on lakes after all the rain.

WHAT ABOUT THE DAMS?

“We will continue to store water in our tributary dams,” Everett told the media. TVA is preventing flooding in downstream areas by keeping the water in lakes like Norris, Cherokee and Douglas. That, he said, will help relieve water problems at Picwick Dam in Tennessee and aeas in northern Alabama.

However, he said that strategy could change with heavier- or lower-than predicted rainfall in the next few days, and that at some point soon, when the areas downstream can handle it, tributary lakes will be drained.

For instance, Everett said Norris lake is up 16 feet and “that trend will continue as we store more water.”

WHAT ABOUT RIVERS WITH NO DAMS?

Everett also said that TVA watches “all these unregulated rivers that do not have dams on them” and will send out information through social media, including TVA’s Facebook page, on the Little Pigeon and Pigeon rivers in Pigeon Forge. Anther unregulated river is the North Fork of the Holston, which flows out of Scott County into Kingsport, where it meets up with the South Fork of the Holston and continues toward Knoxville and the Tennessee River.

WHAT ABOUT SPECIFIC LAKES?

Everett said that in the greater Tri-Cities area, South Holston is not up to the summer pool level, Wilbur near Elizabethton is being used to store water, Watauga is higher than its summer pool level, and Boone Lake is back to normal operating levels for this time of year and not as high as last week. Downstream, he said, Cherokee is up 12 to 13 feet above the summer pool level, and Douglass is predicted to rise to about 20 feet above its summer pool level. 

He said Cherokee and Douglass dams will begin discharges later to get back down to normal lower winter levels and “prepare for the rest of the winter.”

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