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SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007
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River providing dry-spell relief
The Tennessee keeps area supplied with water through drought

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

North Alabama may be in the grips of the worst drought in more than 100 years, but officials who monitor the area’s water supply say there is no need to turn off the spigots locally.

That’s because the Tennessee River supplies almost all water for homes, businesses and corporations in counties along the river. Because the river in North Alabama is a navigation channel, officials believe levels will remain normal.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials say they have concerns about levels in feeder streams and lakes along the river upstream in other states.

TVA defines North Alabama’s section of the river as a “run of the river” reservoir, and that means the water must run at normal or low-normal levels for navigation and related purposes, said Brian Atkins, director of the Alabama Office of Water Resources.

Atkins said in frequent meetings with TVA and other federal officials and utility providers, his office assesses the impact of drought conditions on the state waterways.

‘Most intense’ drought area

The Tennessee Valley counties are in a section of the state with the least amount of rain this year, and now fall into the “most intense” drought category on federal measurement scales. The presence of the river, however, will save the area from water rationing and restrictions.

In Athens, which gets its water from the Elk River, officials also expect no shortages.

“Water levels have affected hydroelectric power generation, but right now, we do not have any information that makes us believe we will have any shortage,” said Stan Keenum, interim general manager of Decatur Utilities.

Water use up a little

Keenum said water use for the city is up for May and June, but not dramatically. “We haven’t set any records,” he said.

Gene Gibson, manager of water supply for TVA, said he expects the utility to maintain navigation without difficulty in Alabama with at least low-normal water levels.

“We are only passing minimum levels needed to maintain navigation and water quality,” Gibson said. “In terms of water quality for fish and wildlife, we are monitoring that.”

Gibson said Alabama appears to be in the worst drought shape when compared to neighboring states. He said Georgia is not much better, however, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration monitoring figures.

He said TVA will continue to look at conditions along lakes and streams that feed into the Tennessee in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. In those “storage reservoir” areas, he said, the utility must maintain at least minimum water levels but they can be lower than in navigation/run-of-the river areas.

Upriver from Alabama, lakes and streams in those states already face low water level concerns. The problems are similar to the ones that Alabama Power now has with little water coming from rivers and streams in Alabama and Georgia that normally provide water for the lakes where it has hydroelectric generating plants.

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