Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
This shell lies in Flint Creek, near Alabama 67 in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Gil Francis, a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said December, January and February the driest months on record in 117 years in the TVA region.
Lingering droughts could hurt water levels
By Sheryl Marsh
Officials involved with operations of area lakes say lingering droughts could cause pool levels to drop.
An owner of Smith Lake residential and commercial properties says it’s not the drought, but Alabama Power Co. feeding a power plant that puts lakeside recreation at risk.
Gil Francis, a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said currently rainfall is down 6 inches and if there’s a lingering drought, it could negatively affect pool levels.
“It’s too early to tell, but it has been dry,” said Francis. “We need the rain in order for us to bring lakes up for summer pool. If we get a wet spring we can make it, but if it stays dry we won’t.”
Francis said December, January and February were the driest months on record in 117 years in the TVA region.
Rusty Banks, who lives on Smith Lake and owns Duncan Bridge and Lakeshore Inn marinas, said it’s not the drought that poses a threat.
“Drought or no drought, the level drops down because they use the water to cool Gorgas Steam Plant every single year,” Banks said. “They can generate so much more power from the steam plant than from hydroelectric.”
Couldn’t launch boats
Banks described what life on the lake was like last year.
“It had dropped the water so severely that we couldn’t pull boats in and out during the Labor Day weekend,” Banks said. “For the Duncan Marina we had to get a different kind of forklift to get boats in. We didn’t get any in at Lakeshore. The motel and marinas were completely out of service and we had to cancel motel reservations prior to the weekend.”
He said aquatic life suffered, also.
“It wiped fish and everything else out,” said Banks.
Michael Sznajderman, a spokesman for Alabama Power, said Smith Lake’s level is a
little higher than normal because the company has reduced power generation.
“We’ve been running less water through the dam,” Sznajderman said. “We’ve been cutting down on the generation of hydropower for the past couple of months.”
Sznajderman said the main reason the water gets low is lack of rain.
He said that during the heat of summer, water is used to help cool the plant.
“We have a power plant downriver from Smith Dam, on the Black Warrior River,” Sznajderman said.
“Plant Gorgas has been there much longer than Smith Dam. The original plant was built in 1914 and it’s had upgrades throughout the years. The bottom line is that plant Gorgas and Smith Dam are not connected.”
The Tennessee River does not have a problem, according to a boat retailer at the Riverwalk Marina.
“It’s normal for this time of the year,” said Jimmy Lee, sales manager of Extreme Marine. “TVA controls the water levels with Wheeler Dam. To the best of my knowledge we’re never dry. Ditto Landing upstream from us in Huntsville usually has flooding, but we don’t because we have more area here for the water to spread out. It’s perfect.”
Francis said the river is in good shape.
“Right now it’s been a dry period in the Tennessee Valley although the reservoirs are operating in range for this time of year,” Francis said. “It is a cycle that you bring reservoirs down and gain storage space. If you didn’t bring it down, it would cause flooding.
“In the spring, as it rains, reservoirs fill to summer levels. The biggest time is from April to May, and then June through August we try to hold on to water for summer recreation, navigation and power supply,” Francis said.
“At the end of summer we gradually let water come down to retain storage space for winter months.”
Francis said rain is needed.
“We’re watching the weather and we need to be doing a rain dance because we are below normal for this time of year.”
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