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A canine visitor to the boat dock at Lakeshore Inn on Smith Lake near Addison finds it high, dry and deserted Tuesday.
Daily photo by John Godbey
A canine visitor to the boat dock at Lakeshore Inn on Smith Lake near Addison finds it high, dry and deserted Tuesday.

High temps, low water
Drought worsens, impact widens
on lakes, rivers around Alabama

By M.J. Ellington
(334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s worst drought in more than a century is getting personal and threatening water levels in some parts of the state.

Chuck Bohac, with the Tennessee Valley Authority in Knoxville, said Tuesday via teleconference that TVA’s waterways are thirsty upstream but holding at low-normal pool levels along main navigation channels downstream in North Alabama.

Lowering water levels

On Sept. 1, TVA will begin dropping water levels in preparation for winter, so low-normal levels will go lower but will still support navigation as long as the drought does not significantly worsen.

“We continue to ride the boundary line between serious drought and all-time drought,” Bohac said. So far, there are just two years on record drier than 2007, and “we haven’t hit rock bottom yet, but we are waiting on it.”

Willard Bowers, vice president for environmental affairs with Alabama Power, said the drought is hitting hard lakes and rivers in his company’s region. “At Smith Lake, we are at or right near the record low water level for this time of year,” he said. “We don’t know if we will end up with record lows for the year there.”

Water levels in Lake Logan Martin and Lake Weiss “will see levels lower than anything we’ve ever seen before,” Bowers said.

90-degree river temps

Bowers said river temperatures sometimes reach about 90 degrees, making it hard for hydroelectric power plants to discharge water used as coolant back into waterways at levels cool enough not to harm fish and other wildlife. “If that happens, we will shut down the plant and use alternate sources of power,” Bowers said.

Unit 2 at TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens exceeded the maximum discharge temperature last week and had to shut down temporarily. Units 1 and 3 were reduced to 70 percent output.

“For the general public, (the drought) means be aware of the messages you get from your water authorities,” Tom Littlepage with the Alabama Office of Water Resources said. “This is not just talking. This is a serious event.

“Agriculture and recreation in Alabama felt the effect of the drought early, but now we are starting to see a direct impact on other users as well,” he said.

Drought in others states

Drought conditions are also moving into Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and some parts of North Carolina, he said.

Littlepage said the extreme rainfall shortage now present in 59 of Alabama’s 67 counties is just one part of what experts believe is a multi-year drought that began in 2005.

“There’s been no real significant rain since the after effect of Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” he said. “Most drought analysis comes afterward.”

Littlepage and the other experts taking part in frequent drought assessment and planning meetings have outlined many concerns and talked about ways to manage the drought in future weeks.

But one positive effect of the drought was noted by an Alabama Forestry Commission representative who called in to say that Southern pine beetles decimating pine forests across the South fare badly in extremely hot, dry weather.

When temperatures exceed 100 for more than five days, pine beetle larvae do not survive, he said.

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