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June 13, 2011

In this issue:

Rainfall and runoff
Current reservoir conditions
Reservoir operations
Q & A: Boating safety

Visitor centers now open
More TVA information

TVA provides monthly updates on the operation of TVA-managed reservoirs by e-mail. To sign up for future updates, provide feedback, change your e-mail address, or have your address removed from this distribution list, please send an e-mail request to reservoirupdate@tva.com.


Rainfall and Runoff

After really wet weather in March and April, May turned out to be a bit drier than normal. Rainfall across the Tennessee River Basin was 73% of what it typically is during the month of May.

Runoff, however, was still well above normal for the month: 104%, to be exact. The month of June has been much dryer. Rainfall so far is a mere 28% of normal, and runoff is 44% of normal, to date. Rainfall events may be short in duration, but the resulting runoff can take quite a bit longer to dissipate.

There are actually two components of runoff. Surface runoff makes its way over the soil surface and into surrounding waterbodies within a day or two. But groundwater runoff may still be affecting the water table for a matter of weeks—depending upon soil type and how wet it was when the rain began to fall.

Both types of runoff combine to comprise what is referred to as “inflow.” And that’s what raises stream levels and ultimately contributes to changes in reservoir elevations.


Current Reservoir Conditions

Some years, it happens and others, it doesn’t. And some years, it happens in some places and not others—all because of how generous Mother Nature is with rainfall.

This year, as of the first day of June, every TVA tributary reservoir reached its targeted elevation for summer recreation—with the exception of Chatuge (within 1/10 of foot). Blue Ridge Reservoir, impacted by a deep drawdown this year for a dam rehabilitation project, continues to fill ahead of the project schedule.

Currently, pool elevations remain right at or slightly above flood guide—again, with the exception of Blue Ridge.


June 1, 2011
Observed Elevation1

June 1
Flood Guide2

June 13, 2011
Observed Elevation3

June 13
Flood Guide2

South Holston













































Blue Ridge





Tims Ford










1 Elevations above mean sea level, as of 10:00 a.m. on this date
Flood guide levels show the amount of storage allocated for flood damage reduction during different times of the year. During the summer, TVA's goal is to meet downstream flow requirements while keeping the reservoir level at the dam as close to the flood guide level as possible to support reservoir recreation. From June 1 through Labor Day, reservoir levels fall below the flood guide only when rain and runoff are insufficient

3 Elevations above mean sea level, as of 12:01 am on this date



Reservoir Operations


When June 1 target elevations are reached, as they essentially have been this year, it puts those responsible for managing the river system in the best possible position for the rest of the summer.

“We’re right where we want to be,” says David Bowling, Senior Manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center. “By reaching our targeted levels for recreation basically on schedule, any additional runoff we receive will be used to meet our minimum flow commitments. Basically, it’ll just make it easier to keep water levels in the tributary reservoirs as high as possible.”

But even though there’s a sense of satisfaction associated with meeting those target levels, this is no time to get complacent. According to Bowling, this is a pivotal time of year, when it comes to reservoir operations: “Everything changes for us on June 1, with regard to how we operate the system based on our commitments to the public.”

Between now and Labor Day, he and his colleagues are bound by an obligation to release just enough water from the tributary reservoirs to meet minimum flows—which are determined by both reservoir-specific needs and requirements of the river system as a whole. These include things like protecting downstream aquatic habitat, assuring adequate navigation depths on the main river, maintaining thermal compliance downstream of TVA nuclear plants, waste assimilation, and water supply.

As the summer wears on and temperatures rise, minimum flow commitments increase—and the challenge of meeting them becomes even greater when inflows decrease. “It’s certainly true that we are limited in our operational flexibility during the summer recreation season,” says Bowling, “but there’s a very good reason for that limitation. We take our responsibility to protect the biological integrity of aquatic life in the tailwaters very seriously. And that’s just one of the factors we must consider when we provide minimum flows. When we’ve only got so much water with which to work, that means we have to be extremely diligent in how we use the water we do have.”

When water is needed, a complex process of drawing down the tributary reservoirs in an equitable fashion is followed. TVA managers use a “balancing guide” to determine the amounts that can be withdrawn from any given reservoir, relative to conditions, capacities, and current elevations at the other tributary reservoirs. This evenhanded approach ensures that no individual reservoir is singled out for a water withdrawal that is greater than its fair share, in terms of the overall needs of the river system as a whole.

Last but not least are operating considerations related to tailwater recreation. Bowling is quick to note the importance of activities such as rafting, wade fishing, canoeing, and float fishing. “Anglers and others who enjoy recreation in the TVA tailwaters can be assured that we’ll be doing what it takes to provide the conditions they need in order to enjoy their sport. There’ll be specific times that we provide high flows and other times when we restrict flows—with the goal of maximizing opportunities for a wide variety of recreational pursuits. One thing’s for sure: regardless of what kind of water-based recreation you’re into, there’s no better time of year to be out there enjoying the TVA river system.”


Q and A: Boating Safety


As the summer recreation season begins in earnest, we thought it would be a good idea to sit down with one of the TVA Police officers responsible for public safety on TVA reservoirs. Our conversation with Marine Officer John Neal offers some first-hand insights related to the importance of boating safety.

Officer Neal has been responsible for enforcing boating laws since 1996, and his regular patrols include the waters of Norris, Fort Loudoun, Tellico, Watts Bar, and Melton Hill reservoirs.

As a TVA marine officer, what are some of your safety concerns regarding the upcoming recreation season?

A lot of the issues we see this time of year have to do with the fact that people’s boats have been put up all winter, and this is really the first time this year that they’re going out. They take the boat cover off, charge the battery, and then they’re ready to get out on the water! But what we always stress is the need for a safety check: make sure your personal flotation devices are in good condition, that your running lights are working, that you have all your safety equipment on board, and that your registration is current. Taking care of these things before you head to the boat ramp is a good way to start the season off right.

What is the greatest challenge you and your fellow officers face, when it comes to keeping the boating public safe?

Educating people. I try to tell them that, as boat operators, they are the best safety mechanism on board their vessel. Boats don’t have brakes! The decisions they make are sometimes going to make a life or death difference for themselves and for everyone else in their boat. I try to be an ambassador out on the water, in a sense. I don’t automatically cite someone for a small infraction; I look for opportunities to explain the reasons behind boating safety laws and help folks understand why they’re important.

How have you seen the situation change over the years? Do you think boaters are becoming more knowledgeable about following the rules of the water?

The law that was passed back in 1989 has made a big difference. It mandated that anyone born in that year or later who is at the helm of a boat or a personal watercraft must take a boating safety course and carry proof that they’ve been certified. As time goes on, this is going to mean that more boaters will have received this training and are therefore much more informed about what it takes to stay safe out on the water.

How do you prepare for major holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July—and what have you come to expect, in terms of encounters with the public?

I have learned to expect the unexpected! We work long hours during the summer holidays and you’re liable to encounter anything from someone recklessly operating a personal watercraft (jumping wakes just after a boat passes by and the like) to people boating under the influence. A lot of the challenges arise from crowded conditions on those weekends, so it’s especially important to maintain a good awareness of other recreational users while you’re out there having fun.

How are your responsibilities different from those of, say, a marine officer with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency?

We have a specific responsibility to patrol TVA property (the areas around the dams, campgrounds, etc.) in addition to enforcing boating laws. Also, officers with state agencies like TWRA can pull a boat over for any reason, while we—as TVA Police officers—are required to observe an infraction of the rules before pulling someone over. We do carry firearms, and by virtue of a Memorandum of Understanding with the State, we are authorized to issue citations for violations. We can also terminate the voyage of someone who is flagrantly violating boating laws and, if necessary, we can take someone into custody and then turn them over to the proper authorities.

If I’m enjoying recreation on a TVA reservoir this summer, what’s the single most important thing I can do to stay safe?

Wear your life jacket. Even with all the knowledge and preparation in the world, you can never tell what may happen—and, if something goes wrong, your survival rate is much better when you’re wearing a personal flotation device. Notice I said “wearing” it. Even if you’ve got one on board, it’s not going to do you a lot of good if it’s stuffed way inside a storage compartment with other people sitting on it!

Officer Neal’s Top Five Boating Safety Tips


1.  Have all the necessary safety equipment on board, and know how to use it. I already mentioned the life jacket. In addition to that, make sure you’re carrying a fire extinguisher rated for your vessel, a whistle, a throwable float cushion or ring, and a first-aid kit. Wearing a safety lanyard is also a great idea; it serves as a “kill switch” to stop the engine if control of the boat is lost for any reason.

2.  Follow the rules of the water and operate your boat properly. You are legally responsible for the safety of those on your boat, any damage your boat causes to other boats and property, and anyone who is injured by damage you cause. And the fact that you didn’t know the rules is not a valid defense. Don’t overload your boat by taking out “just one or two” extra people. Many folks make the mistake of piling too many riders onto a boat that is not rated for that capacity or exceeds the weight limit. Observe the “no wake” signs, follow the proper procedure for passing other boats, and turn on your running lights 30 minutes before sunset. And remember: a personal watercraft is considered by authorities to be a boat—just a smaller and faster one. Operators of these vessels should follow the rules of the water just like everyone else.

3.  Practice courteous boating. Share the water with other users, and show respect to your fellow boaters. When boating on the main river reservoirs, give a wide berth to commercial vessels; they have the right-of-way, always. Don’t roar in and out of quiet coves or try to “buzz” the swimming areas or marinas. A little consideration for others goes a long way, when you’re out on the water.

4.  Don’t operate your vessel in an impaired state. Drunk boating can kill people the same way that drunk driving can. And all of the sudden what started out as a party turns into a tragedy. I can’t emphasize this enough: if you decide to make alcohol a part of your day on the water, then leave the boat operation to someone who has not been drinking.

5. Keep a close eye on the weather and use common sense. Make sure someone back home has an idea of approximately where you’ll be on the reservoir and about what time you’re expecting to return. Check the forecast before you head out and keep an eye on the sky. Conditions can change really fast out when you’re out on the water. Fog can roll in and a thunderstorm can materialize out of nowhere. Anglers have to be particularly careful of staying out “just a bit longer, to catch that last big one.” When you’re standing in a boat surrounded by water and throwing a six-foot-long graphite rod, it pays to be aware of the fact that you are essentially holding a lightning rod in your hand!


Visitor centers now open

TVA visitor centers are open for the season at Fontana Dam in North Carolina, Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant near Chattanooga, and Norris Dam in Norris, Tennessee.

Dates and hours of operation:

Fontana 9 am – 7 pm daily through October 30
Raccoon Mountain 9 am – 5 pm daily year round

9 am – 5 pm, Mon – Sat
1 pm – 5 pm, Sun

through November 30

The visitor centers are a good place to learn more about how TVA produces electricity and manages the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

All three locations have maps, videos, displays, and written information about TVA and the construction of each particular site. TVA retirees are there to answer questions about TVA, the history of the facility, and the surrounding area.

Get more information on TVA.com

The links below will take you to reservoir-related information on TVA’s website.

TVA’s reservoir operating policy:  Learn how TVA manages the flow of water through the Tennessee River system to provide navigation, flood damage reduction, power supply, water quality, water supply, recreation, and other benefits.

Reservoir information:  Get detailed information about individual reservoirs, including observed and predicted elevations and releases at TVA dams, reservoir operating guides, water quality improvements, fish population survey results, and more.  To check reservoir information from your cell phone or other mobile device, go to http://m.tva.com.

Rainfall and stream flows:  Get the latest information on daily rainfall and stream flows across the Valley.

Recreation release schedules:  View the 2011 schedule for water releases for rafting, kayaking, and canoeing below these TVA dams:  Apalachia, Ocoee No. 1, Ocoee No. 2, Ocoee No. 3, Norris, Watauga/Wilbur, Upper Bear Creek and Tims Ford.

Map of TVA reservoirs and power plants:  Our interactive map is your guide to the entire TVA power system, including fossil and nuclear plants, dams and reservoirs, and visitor centers.  You’ll find interesting facts about each facility and learn how they work together for the purposes of power supply, river management, and economic development.

Water supply FAQs:  Get answers to frequently asked questions about obtaining a water intake permit, improving water quality around intakes, inter-basin transfers, and more.

Dangerous areas around TVA dams:  If you like fishing or enjoy swimming and boating on TVA-managed reservoirs, you need to be aware of the possible hazards around dams, locks, and powerhouses.

How to lock through:  Find out what you need to do to safely approach a navigation lock, secure your boat in the lock chamber, and exit the lock.

Reservoir health ratings:  See the latest monitoring results for TVA-managed reservoirs.

Campgrounds and day-use areas:  Get information here about campground fees and amenities as well as picnic pavilion reservations.

TVAkids.com:  TVA’s got a Web site just for kids!  Learn about how TVA makes electricity, reduces flood damage, protects wildlife, and more.  There’s a section for teachers, too.

TVA Heritage:  Read about the people who founded TVA, shaped its purpose, and built its power plants.  TVA Heritage offers fascinating glimpses of the agency’s history.

Get more information by phone

For the latest information on reservoir elevations and stream flows, call TVA’s Reservoir Information Line from a touch-tone phone:

  • From Knoxville, TN:  865-632-2264
  • From Chattanooga, TN:  423-751-2264
  • From Muscle Shoals, AL:  256-386-2264
  • From all other locations:  800-238-2264 (toll-free)

For answers to questions on how your reservoir is operated, call TVA River Operations at 865-632-6065.

For answers to questions about recreation, permitting procedures, reservoir land management plans, and other environmental issues, call TVA’s Environmental Information Center at 1-800-882-5263.

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