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(Editor’s note: This article reflects conditions as of May 18, 2005, when this issue of River Neighbors was posted. Reservoir levels can change quickly as a result of rainfall and power demands. For the latest information on your reservoir’s elevation, go here.)
Susan Jacks is pretty optimistic about where things stand. As Manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center, Jacks keeps a close eye on rainfall and runoff. And, even though amounts in both categories have been lower than normal thus far in 2005, she is pleased with the fact that the spring fill is progressing more or less on target.
“Of course, a little extra precipitation would help the situation,” she is quick to add. “And that’s really all it would take — one good rain — for reservoirs to be precisely where they need to be by June 1. Right now, we’re within a foot of being at the flood guide level on most reservoirs.” Flood guides show the amount of storage space in a reservoir that is reserved for flood reduction. TVA is careful to keep the reservoir level below this line except for temporary storage of water to reduce downstream flooding.
Nottely, Fontana, and Tims Ford are filling a little more slowly than other tributary reservoirs, according to Jacks. “Conditions in those watersheds have been drier, so it may take a little longer to reach their targeted June 1 pool elevations. But we’re confident we’re going to get there. We aren't releasing any water from these reservoirs except for minimum flows to meet downstream needs, which should help.”
The remaining tributary reservoirs have enough water to allow for increased releases while still being on target to fill by June 1. This is the first spring fill under the new reservoir operating policy implemented by TVA in June of last year, a fact that has made a real difference this year, according to Jacks. “We kept pool levels up higher last winter on 10 tributary reservoirs, as specified under our new operating policy. That gave us a head start towards achieving the June 1 target levels, which turned out to be important since rainfall and runoff are below normal so far.”
Rainfall for the Valley is at about 72 percent of what it should be for this time of year. Runoff (the portion of rainfall that is not absorbed into the ground and flows into streams, rivers, and reservoirs) is at 80 percent of normal. Jacks attributes the fact that the runoff percentage is higher than that for rainfall to the wet weather last fall. “The ground was already saturated; not as much rainfall was absorbed, so more was available to run off into the reservoirs.”
Another change this year affected Fort Loudoun/Tellico, Watts Bar, and Chickamauga reservoirs. “Our new policy is to fill these reservoirs in two stages,” says Jacks. “Weather permitting, we bring levels about halfway up the first week of April, and then we continue the second half of the fill more gradually through mid-May. This gives us additional capacity for flood damage reduction while minimizing impacts to fish spawning. This year, all three reservoirs were within summer operating zones by the first week of May due to local rainfall, but that’s not something people can count on.
“Every year is different. A lot depends on when and how much it rains. Runoff conditions are important, too. Those things can vary greatly from year to year, so each year presents its own challenges. We could use a little more help from Mother Nature to be right where we need to be this year. But, all in all, things are shaping up pretty well.”
I’d like to know more about the level of my reservoir. When will it fill and when will it be drawn down? What’s the expected summer and winter pool elevation?
Good news! This information is available at your fingertips. TVA’s Reservoir Information page includes operating guides for all TVA-managed reservoirs. These guides show the seasonal operating schedule and expected elevations under normal rainfall conditions, as well as observed reservoir elevations for last year and the year to date.
Most of the operating guides for tributary reservoirs show a “flood guide” line. The point where this line turns upward (usually in mid-March) indicates the beginning of the spring fill. The point where it turns downward (around Labor Day) is the beginning of the unrestricted drawdown (the lowering of reservoir levels without restrictions on the rate of change). Except for temporary regulation of flood flows, TVA is careful to keep reservoir levels below the flood guide line year-round to preserve flood storage space. During the winter, actual reservoir levels may be well below this line as TVA uses the water to produce hydropower, maintain flows for navigation, and achieve other operating objectives. But from June 1 through Labor Day, TVA’s operating objective is to keep reservoir levels as close to this line as rainfall permits to support water-based recreation.
For reservoirs on the main Tennessee River, operating guides generally show the zone of normal operation for power production and summer mosquito control. The top of this zone is only exceeded for the regulation of flood flows.
To view the operating guide for your reservoir, find the shaded box on the right-hand side of the Reservoir Information page. Choose the name of your reservoir in the first pull-down menu and select “Operating Guide” in the second pull-down menu. Then click “View Info.”
You can also use the same pull-down menus to view other information about your reservoir, including actual and predicted releases from the dam, fish population survey results, recreation facilities, and more.
Nearly 15 years ago, TVA launched a major program to address two environmental problems faced by hydropower producers everywhere: low levels of dissolved oxygen and intermittent drying out of the riverbed in tailwater areas (the area immediately downstream from a dam). Improvements were made at 16 dams, giving fish what they need most: a consistent supply of oxygen-rich water.
Today, TVA is back in the business of installing equipment to keep the oxygen content in these areas where it needs to be for a healthy aquatic community. Chuck Bach, manager of TVA’s Reservoir Releases Improvement program, explains:
“When TVA changed its policy for operating the reservoir system last summer, we knew that there could be adverse effects below some dams. When you hold summer pool levels up for a longer time, it means that the water sits in the reservoir longer. The longer it sits, the more time there is for organic matter to settle to the bottom. Since organic matter uses oxygen as it decays, you’re more likely to see a depletion of oxygen supplies at lower depths.
“Knowing this, when we decided to hold pool levels up longer, we committed to monitoring oxygen levels closely and to upgrading our aeration equipment as needed to ensure that we continue to meet the oxygen target levels necessary to protect tailwater conditions.”
Upgrades are planned at 12 TVA dams. Enhancements to existing oxygen-injection systems already are under way at Watts Bar, Fort Loudoun, Cherokee, Douglas, Norris, Nottely, and Hiwassee dams, and construction will start soon at Blue Ridge and Tims Ford dams. Improvements at Watauga, Boone, and Chickamauga dams are still in the planning stage.
TVA also uses other technologies to add oxygen to the water, including surface water pumps, which work like big ceiling fans to push water from the oxygen-rich surface to the oxygen-deprived bottom; aerating weirs, which work a lot like a natural waterfall; and turbine venting, a system of adding oxygen to the water as it passes through the turbines.
The improvements, which are scheduled for completion in 2006, will require a capital investment of about $17 million and add about $1.3 million in annual operating expenses.
It’s a necessary investment, says Bach. “The enhancements will ensure that we can continue to meet the dissolved-oxygen targets adopted as part of our 1991 Lake Improvement Plan.”
Memorial Day weekend marks the official beginning of the recreation season, and the many public recreation areas managed by TVA have a lot to offer: places to camp, trails to hike, picnic facilities, boat launching ramps, and more.
If you’re planning some time with your family in the outdoors, a good place to start is on TVA’s Recreation site. You’ll find a map of TVA facilities, along with detailed information about campgrounds and other recreation opportunities on TVA-managed reservoirs. You can also find out how to reserve a picnic pavilion in advance.
“We’re continuing to improve our facilities for the public’s enjoyment,” says TVA Recreation Manager Jerry Fouse. “For the upcoming recreation season, for example, we’ve expanded the ramp and improved the parking area at Rhea Springs on Watts Bar; extended the courtesy dock and expanded the boat ramp at Boone Dam; replaced the Singleton ramp and added a courtesy dock on Fort Loudoun; and completed the Songbird Trail below Norris Dam.
“We hope people will enjoy these improvements and take advantage of the many opportunities for recreation on and around TVA reservoirs.”
The boat itself is nice — outfitted with all the latest technology and comfortable accommodations for the four-person crew. But this vessel isn’t designed for pleasure boating. The 88-foot-long Sideview is TVA’s navigation service boat, and her crew has an important job: helping boaters find their way around more easily and avoid hazardous or shallow-water areas.
Around 2,000 navigation aids (64 kb, PDF), including buoys, daymarks, daybeacons, and fingerboards, mark secondary channels in main-river and tributary reservoirs. These channels connect marinas and public boat launching ramps with the commercial navigation channel, which is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The commercial channel provides safe passage for towboats and barges. The Sideview crew assists the Coast Guard by maintaining safety landing markers, buoy reference ranges, and reservoir pool gauges.
Two times a year, the Sideview travels the entire length of the river, checking the location of and visually inspecting navigation aids. All along the way, the crew painstakingly hauls every single buoy out of the water, checks its condition, and makes any necessary repairs. Time, wave action, and occasional run-ins with boaters take their toll; aids must be periodically repainted or replaced. Vegetation obscuring signage must be cut down. Danger buoys are placed in hazardous waters. Soundings are taken prior to the permitting of commercial docks to ensure an adequate depth at minimum pool levels.
Although the tasks involved are pretty routine, you won’t catch any of the four crew members of the Sideview complaining. These guys know how lucky they are to be out on the water 10 months a year. They have a chance to get to know the Tennessee River in a way that few other people do. Between them, Captain Larry Dixon and his co-pilot, Gary Faulkner, have a total of 56 years’ experience on the Sideview and its predecessor, the Pellissippi. Along with deckhands Tim Buckley and Chad Gower, they’ve seen a lot during that time.
At times, the problem seems insurmountable. When you stop to think about the sheer volume of trash that accumulates along reservoir shorelines or river and stream banks, it can be pretty discouraging. Whether it’s litter dropped into the water from passing boats or household waste dumped at remote public access sites, there are few locations along Valley waterways that are entirely free of unsightly garbage.
Aside from aesthetic considerations, trash affects aquatic habitat and overall water quality. With so many thoughtless individuals contributing to the problem, there seems to be no end in sight — and not much reason to hope things will be different in the future.
So how much can just one person do to change things? Turns out, quite a lot.
Despite the long odds, there are folks who care deeply about their streams, rivers, and reservoirs — and are selflessly devoting their time and energy to help clean them up. Their examples are inspiring others to get involved, and the resulting improvements are noticeable.
Click on the links below to read more about the efforts of dedicated individuals who are working hard to improve water resource conditions. If you’d like to help start or be a part of a similar program on your stream, river, or reservoir, contact a member of your local TVA Watershed Team.
A beautiful day on the water, perfect in every way — right up until you notice the trash drifting by your boat or accumulating on the shoreline. For those who care about the health and appearance of rivers, streams, and reservoirs, it can be pretty disheartening.
If you’ve ever wondered if anybody ever really tries to track down and hold the folks who litter Valley waterways accountable, you may rest assured that they do.
TVA Police officers are on the lookout for offenders when conducting patrols. They investigate all dump sites and follow up on every citizen’s report of littering. The officers pursue every lead to the fullest extent possible and go to great lengths to track down the persons responsible.
By investigating incidents of littering, issuing warning citations to offenders, and having them either clean up the mess or make restitution to TVA for the cleanup costs, TVA saves thousands of dollars each year. Case reports are entered into a database, and repeat offenders may be cited to court and fined.
Of course, a great deal of litter is not traceable; it’s impossible to know who tossed that Styrofoam cup or aluminum can overboard. But we can all help keep reservoirs and campgrounds clean by doing our part — namely, properly disposing of any waste we generate. And it’s a great idea to take along an extra trash bag when you’re out on the water. By taking a few minutes to clean up someone else’s litter, you can have an impact on the health and beauty of the places you love. Make it a habit to leave the reservoir, the campground, or the shoreline cleaner than you found it.
TVA is in the process of updating its plan for managing public land around Watts Bar Reservoir.
The planning process, according to project manager Mike Dobrogosz, is designed to integrate a variety of resource management goals. “We identify land that’s best suited to specific uses with an eye toward balancing competing demands — everything from protecting and improving the environment to promoting economic development and meeting public needs for recreation.
“The plan will provide a working blueprint to manage the 16,000 acres of TVA public land on Watts Bar, as well as ensure that our lands planning activities meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Dobrogosz.
This spring, TVA will issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) identifying the proposed land allocations. TVA will discuss the DEIS at a public meeting on June 7 at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tennessee.
After public review, TVA will make a final determination on land use allocations for Watts Bar Reservoir and submit a Final EIS and Land Management Plan to the TVA Board for approval. Dobrogosz expects to have an updated plan in place by this fall.
Click here for additional information, including maps of TVA-managed land on Watts Bar Reservoir, or call Dobrogosz at 865-632-2190.
The Tennessee Valley is blessed with a diversity of outstanding water resources, but the Little River in East Tennessee holds a special place in Tom McDonough’s heart.
McDonough, a member of TVA’s Little Tennessee Watershed Team, has spent the last seven years working with others in the Little River watershed to protect this many-faceted jewel.
The Little River is unique in several respects, according to McDonough. “For its size, it has one of the most diverse fish populations in the southeastern U.S. The upper reaches of the river, deep inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, are in excellent ecological condition, which contributes to a healthy sport fishery. And, with plenty of access areas, it’s a real recreational asset — whether you like to go tubing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, picnicking, or just enjoy the incredible scenic beauty.”
The river also has a fascinating cultural history, says McDonough. “Artifacts suggest that large Native American villages once thrived along its banks. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the river’s freshwater mussels were used to make buttons for the garment industry. Extensive logging began in the early 1900s when the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company began operations in the watershed. From tanneries to a small hydroelectric dam to a tourist destination at Kinzel Springs, the Little River saw a wide variety of human activities, some of which had an impact on water quality.
McDonough is optimistic about the river’s future. “Several efforts are under way to ensure that the rapid development occurring in the watershed is sustainable — that it doesn’t jeopardize the water resources necessary for future growth. Best of all, there are a lot of people involved who are committed to doing what needs to be done to protect and improve the watershed over the long term.”
View a profile of the Little River, including information about its ecological health, sport fish populations, recreational resources, and more.
All in all, 2004 was a pretty good year for aquatic life in TVA-managed reservoirs, according to TVA Scientist Tyler Baker. “We had improved rainfall and higher reservoir flows, which resulted in noticeable improvements in ecological conditions compared to recent years,” Baker says. “Of the 16 reservoirs monitored by TVA last year, 11 had better ecological health scores than they did during the preceding drought years, from mid-1998 through 2002.”
Ecological health scores are based on data collected by TVA at sampling sites located in different parts of each reservoir, including data on dissolved oxygen, sediment quality, bottom life, fish populations, and chlorophyll (a measure of the amount of algae in the water). TVA monitors ecological conditions at 69 sites on 31 reservoirs. Each reservoir is monitored every other year unless a substantial change in the ecological health score occurs during the two-year cycle.
“Higher flows in 2003 and 2004 essentially reversed the impacts of the drought,” says Baker. “Dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll returned to more normal levels, especially in main Tennessee River reservoirs and in smaller tributary reservoirs where the water tends to move through quickly.”
The larger tributary reservoirs didn’t show as much improvement in 2003 because of the timing and amount of rain that fell, says Baker. “We had a wet spring, including a major flood in early May 2003, which washed a lot of nutrients and organic material into the water early in the growing season. The wet weather continued into the summer, resulting in higher-than-normal chlorophyll levels in some tributary reservoirs, especially in the deep water near the dams.”
In a few of the deepest reservoirs where the water tends to sit longer — Norris, Tims Ford, South Holston, and Watauga, for example — monitoring also showed a greater volume of water with low oxygen levels. “In these reservoirs, the added organic material had more time to settle to the bottom and decompose,” explains Baker. “And, since oxygen is used up in the process of decomposition, we weren’t surprised to see noticeable decreases in late-summer oxygen levels. The higher inflows associated with all the rain in 2003 compounded the problem by displacing the cooler bottom water earlier in the summer. This led to warmer water temperatures, which increase the rate of oxygen depletion.”
According to Baker, chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen conditions were better in 2004. “Rainfall totals were below normal the first half of the year, which delayed the influx of nutrients and organic material.”
How is 2005 shaping up so far? “Rainfall is below normal,” says Baker, “but reservoir pool levels look good. That gives us a good start towards maintaining more desirable flows and avoiding the almost stagnant conditions that can occur during drought years.”
Some Norris Reservoir users noticed it earlier this spring: an oily sheen on the water’s surface. The water had an odd color, too — sort of a rusty brown. What looked a lot like the result of an oil spill, however, was actually an interesting natural phenomenon that occurs frequently this time of year: a bloom, or concentrated gathering, of dinoflagellates.
These single-celled microscopic organisms defy neat categorization, possessing some characteristics of both plants and animals. Most dinoflagellates are capable of photosynthesis; others feed on organic matter; some do both. Dinoflagellates get their name from two flagella that allow them to move. One extends behind the organism like a tail and the other encircles its body, imparting a distinctive spiral to its swimming motion.
Blooms of dinoflagellates may occur several times each year, but they are most often observed in spring, when the days become longer and surface water temperatures increase. Spring rains also provide an influx of nutrients that feed dinoflagellates. Outbreaks typically occur after an extended period of sunny, calm weather. They may be prominent across a large section of a reservoir or confined to a relatively small area along the shoreline. Blooms rarely last more than a couple of days, depending on the supply of available nutrients.
Unlike saltwater dinoflagellates, known for producing poisonous red tides in the ocean, freshwater dinoflagellates are thought to be essentially harmless. Some can produce toxins in response to competition or threats from other species, but freshwater blooms have never been established as a cause of fish or mussel kills anywhere in the Tennessee River system.
If you spot an oil sheen or notice that the water is an odd color, it’s a good idea to report it to your nearest state environmental office. There’s always a chance that it could turn out to be some type of spill or release.
Fieldstone Resort and Marina on Chatuge Reservoir will fly a Clean Marina flag this summer in recognition of the marina’s efforts to preserve and protect water quality in the Tennessee River system.
Fieldstone is the first marina on Chatuge Reservoir — and the first in Georgia — to receive the Clean Marina designation. The program was set up by TVA to recognize marinas that go the extra mile to reduce water pollution and erosion and encourage boater education.
“Since Richard and Dana Pelham purchased Fieldstone Resort and Marina in 2002, environmental quality has been the goal,” said Linda Harris, TVA’s Clean Marina coordinator for Chatuge Reservoir. “In May of 2004, Fieldstone was one of only four resorts in Georgia to earn a Green Seal award for environmental practices. So when they learned about the Tennessee Valley Clean Marina Initiative, they set their sights on becoming the first certified Clean Marina in Georgia. Building on what had already been accomplished, they achieved certification in less than six months, going well beyond the minimum requirements.”
It’s just good business, according to Greg Diehl, project manager for Fieldstone Resort. “The expenses involved were minimal when you weigh them against the benefits of protecting Lake Chatuge. Our livelihood depends upon a healthy lake, and taking a few extra steps to protect that health is a good investment in our future.”
Receiving recertification in recent months are Aqua Yacht Harbor on Pickwick Reservoir and Fort Loudoun Marina, Concord Marina, and Louisville Landing Marina on Fort Loudoun Reservoir. Marinas must be reevaluated every two years to maintain certification.
Currently, 40 marinas across the Tennessee Valley have achieved the high environmental standards required for Clean Marina certification. View a list of certified marinas and learn more about clean marina requirements.