TVA to start lowering reservoirs
By Nancy Glasscock
Wheeler Lake will fluctuate only 4 to 6 feet this fall after the Tennessee Valley Authority begins lowering reservoirs to reach winter levels, TVA spokesman Gill Francis said.
Wheeler is among nine reservoirs creating a stairway of navigable water from Knoxville to Paducah, Ky. The water level must remain high enough to accommodate barge traffic, Francis said.
23 feet below normal
While water levels in tributary reservoirs in the eastern part of the TVA region are 23 feet below normal pool, water levels in main river reservoirs are near normal because they have less storage space than tributary reservoirs.
TVA typically begins an unrestricted drawdown of reservoirs to reach winter levels after Labor Day, but since many reservoirs are already at winter levels because of the drought, TVA will continue to release enough water for minimum flows. As a result, tributary reservoirs will drop at a slower-than-usual rate, Francis said.
He said the Tennessee Valley needs more rain than afternoon showers can provide to reverse rain deficits since 2005.
“We would need several storms valleywide, storms that would give us several inches of rain, to give us the water that we haven’t gotten all year long,” Francis said. “A shower is not going to give you anything to fill a lake. It’s not going to translate to any movement in the reservoir system.”
As part of the Reservoir Operations Study implemented in 2004, TVA restricts how much water it releases from the tributary reservoirs from June 1 through Labor Day, so there’s more water for recreation. Throughout the summer, TVA releases only enough water from upstream reservoirs to protect aquatic species and meet other downstream needs.
On Aug. 1, TVA increased its water releases from the tributary reservoirs to meet minimum flow requirements downstream. Coupled with the lack of rain throughout the year, the releases during August resulted in the current low levels.
Drought to continue?
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say the drought is likely to continue through May. Despite recent rains, all of Alabama and much of Southern and Middle Tennessee remain in an extreme drought, or the worst stage shown on the U.S. Drought Monitor, meteorologist Chris White said.
The Drought Monitor shows most of Kentucky remains in the second-worst drought category.
White said the Southeast could see significant rain from an approaching storm system during the next two weeks, but most precipitation is expected to fall in the southern portions of Alabama and Georgia.
“It’s a tough call as to where it’s going to be,” White said.
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