HAMPTON — In the 60 years that Watauga Lake has been in existence, the water has never been as high as it is right now.
“In April 1987 the lake was at 1963.3,” Chuck Bach, general manager of river scheduling for the Tennessee Valley Authority said of the previous high water mark. He said the lake stood at 1966.2 on Tuesday. That means the water in the lake is now 3 feet higher than it has ever been. He said the lake is expected to rise to 1966.5 before receding. He said there is another round of storms expected for the weekend.
Bach said water is being released from Watauga and Wilbur dams as fast as possible without causing the river downstream to overflow its banks. A drive along the river verifies Bach’s statement. The Watauga River is flowing quickly and its at the top of its banks, but not oveflowing them.
Bach said the lake reached its current high level in part because of the heavy rainfall in the region that began in January.
“We were dealing with all that extra water,” Bach said, when a heavy rainfall struck on Sunday.
“It rained 5 to 6 inches and it was right on top of the lake,” Bach said.
As the lake levels rose from the latest storms, Bach said TVA began generating electricity and the sluice gates were opened to release as much water as possible.
Visitors to the Watauga and Wilbur dams will see and hear the water being moved through the system. Wilbur Dam is especially spectacular because it is so close to the road. A deluge of water is being released through three sluice gates, creating a tremendous water fall with lots of white water and mists. The discharge from Wilbur is 3,224 cubic feet per second and the discharge from Watauga is 3,058 cubic feet per second.
In addition, personnel were dispatched to the dam to make visual inspections of the structure. At the new high level mark, the dam was experiencing stresses it had never experienced before. He said the inspectors have found no problems.
Anyone who looks at the dam from the observation booth will be able to see that it is still well below the level of the morning glory spillway.
The high water has caused the fishing pier at Rat Branch to disappear under the water, as well as several picnic tables at Shook Branch.
It has also caused problems for several marinas. Although the docks and buildings on Watauga Lake marinas are designed to float and to rise and fall with the lake levels, the extraordinarily high water has led to the need for additional adjustments.
Tony Weaver at Fish Springs Marina said the dock had to be extended and some boats had to be moved to different parts of the dock. In addition, Weaver said three campers were flooded and the marina’s restrooms.
TVA’s efforts to move the water downstream is not being helped by mother nature. It rained heavily at the lake on Tuesday afternoon and Bach said 2 more inches of rainfall is predicted for the weekend.
TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said one of TVA’s missions is flood damage control. “If the dams weren’t there, you would have seen uncontrolled flooding.” Brickey said.
So there is a 60-year high water mark at Watauga Lake, while downstream, the Watauga River flows rapidly, but within its banks.