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Rain pushes Watauga Lake to record mark for second time this year

July 9th, 2013 11:02 am by Kayla Carter

Rain pushes Watauga Lake to record mark for second time this year

Flooding at Watauga Lake. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)

At its crest Monday, Watauga Lake reached this year’s second record water level at 1,967.1 feet above sea level, which was about 8 feet higher than the normal summer pool level.

“We just set another record high at Watauga,” said Chuck Bach, general manager of river scheduling at Tennessee Valley Authority. “In one year, we set two records — very, very unusual. It’s very unusual to have this amount of rain in the July time period. We’ve had lots and lots of rain and runoff this year.”

The first record was in May, when Watauga Lake’s water level reached 1,966.5 feet above sea level, which was about 9 feet below full capacity for the lake reservoir.

The reason for the unusual double record this year, Bach said, can be attributed to the season and the need to keep water levels a bit higher than usual for recreational use.

“We hold our pools higher in the summertime for recreational purposes and then we had a large rain event on the reservoir system up there,” Bach said. “We saw rain from 6-10 inches above Watauga and all that water came into Watauga.”

Water is being moved out of the Watauga reservoir as fast as possible, Bach said.

“We’re in the process of moving water out of Watauga as fast as we can without going outside of the banks downstream from Watauga,” Bach said. “If I released any more water, we’d go over the top of those and spill into people’s yards and things like that.

“We will be very aggressive in trying to move that water out and get back to those summer pool levels,” Bach said.

On July 5, the Cherokee District of the U.S. Forest Service temporarily closed the Shook Branch picnic area on U.S. Highway 321 in Hampton.

“The safety of our visitors is our first concern,” Watauga District Ranger Keith Kelley said in a news release. “We will reopen the area once the road is again usable.”

Bach said the water level at Watauga Lake is one of many concerns with the recent rain spell.

“It’s not only Watauga that’s being impacted,” Bach said. “We have nine dams on the main part of the river and we are spilling at all those. There’s a lot of water, and we are spilling in a lot of places and it’s not just Watauga.”

Areas heavily impacted by high water but remain open include Rat Branch Boat Launch, Little Milligan Boat Launch and Sink Mountain Boat Ramp, according to the news release.

Bach said other reservoirs in the area are in “good shape.” 

The South Holston reservoir crested at 1,730 feet above sea level, which is about 1 foot over normal, Boone at 1,380.6 and Fort Patrick Henry at 1,259.8.

“Boone is where it needs to be and Fort Patrick Henry is also where it needs to be,” Bach said. “We don’t need to do anything special there other than to run water down through the system.”

TVA plans to monitor the rain predicted for later this week.

“We are going to do everything we can to move all the water out that we can,” Bach said. “We’ll have to watch how much rain actually occurs and how much of that runs off into the reservoirs and then adjust accordingly.”

Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson contributed to this report.

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