Flood Protection: How TVA and Tri-Cities dams play a role

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Places like Boone Lake and the Watauga River are known for the recreational opportunities they provide people across the Tri-Cities.

However, the dams located on them play a vital role in keeping the area safe from flooding an it is all under the guidance of the Tennessee Valley Authority and its River Forecasting Center.

In all, TVA operates 49 dams along the river system. Five of those dams are located in the Tri-Cities area. Those include the South Holston, Watauga, Wilber, Boone and Fort Patrick Henry dams.

“This is an integrated reservoir system so all these parts and pieces, these river systems are connected,” said TVA River Forecast Center Manager James Everett, “so the decision we make in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia have impacts not only locally, but all across the entire region.”

Since Monday, TVA’s River Forecast Center has kept a close on eye on the weather and is adjusting accordingly.

An inside look at TVA’s River Forecast Center.

“Weather is very unpredictable, so that’s probably one of the biggest difficulties we have,” said Everett, “is we need to make decisions now about forecasted weather that may or may not occur.”

They are tasked with preparing reservoir levels across the region and controlling river flow to prevent flooding along the Tennessee River system.

“We’re monitoring things like rainfall, we’re monitoring things like stream flow, lake levels at the dams, both above and below the dams,” he said, “monitoring flows through the turbines that are generating power, flows through spillways.”

Everett says she Tennessee River covers a drainage area of 41,000 square miles. There are 652 miles of main-stem river. He said one decision in East Tennessee can affect the system as a whole. This week, TVA has been releasing large amounts of water.

“We’ll be storing water at places like South Holston, Watauga and then we’ll be using places like Boone and Ft. Pat to regulate the river levels to reduce flooding at areas like Kingsport,” said Everett.

The River Forecast Center is also monitoring lake levels at Boone Dam, where its repair project is underway.

“We continue to pour concrete,” said TVA spokesperson Mary Ellen Miller, “we continue to drill these major pilings that area creating the underground cut off wall here underneath the Boone Dam earthen embankment and rain does not impact our constructions workers at all.”

While it looks like the rain expected this weekend may be less than expected, they are keeping a close eye at next week.

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