Watauga Lake flooding causes safety hazards & underwater roads for residents

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BUTLER, Tenn. (WJHL)- Heavy rain and flooding continues to cause problems for some living by Watauga Lake. Residents living in the community by Mallard Cove Marina in Butler can’t reach their homes by car. Instead, they either have to take boats or walk over makeshift bridges.

“This past week has been chaotic,” said Mallard Cove resident Amanda Richardson.

A temporary bridge for Mallard Cove residents, built over the underwater road

The flooding began with heavy rains last week. Residents say this caused Watauga Lake to rise several feet higher than normal at Mallard Cove. Marina owner and landlord Carroll Van De Krol said 20 homes are affected by the rising floodwater.

“[The water] comes up an inch an hour, or two inches an hour,” he said.

Van De Krol says keeping the six docks raised so marina boats don’t sink has been a 24 hour job.

“So if you’re releasing cables for two hours, you take a nap for two hours, you wake back up and you do two hours again,” he said.

But Van De Krol says he’s more concerned for those using his rental cabins as year-round homes. The road and parking lots leading up to them are completely underwater. With driving out of the question, Van De Krol has been building makeshift bridges so his residents can get to their homes on foot.

He said the biggest problem is that emergency vehicles can’t reach the houses.

“It is a 911 liability,” said Van De Krol. “You can’t get an ambulance through five feet of water to respond to any of it right now.”

“The inconvenience is really not the problem,” said Mallard Cove resident John Wilcox. “It’s 911 access. A young lady just fell walking on the walkway here.”

Van De Krol says the flooding situation is an annual event and the road is a Carter County road. He’s reached out to the County Commission in the past about constructing new road access above the flooding zone. Van De Krol said commission members told him they would need to speak with the TVA first. He hasn’t heard back.

“My question is, when [the TVA] knows four or five days ahead of time, that it’s going to pour down rain for five days – why do we not release the water for four or five days and take the lake down, two feet, three feet, four feet?

TVA spokesperson Mary Ellen Miller said controlling water levels is a delicate balance of making sure other areas downstream don’t flood. She said current rainfall has been 400% higher than normal rainfall levels, and water is held back in the Watauga to protect those living downstream in areas like Kingsport and Elizabethton.

“It’s a regional look that our river forecast managers do when considering where to hold the lakes at this kind of flooding that we’re looking at,” Miller said.

TVA River Forecast Manager James Everett said they expect to begin releasing water from the Watauga Reservoir on Saturday.

On the TVA’s currently projected schedule, Van De Krol said he only expects water levels by the marina to drop two or three inches a day.

“It’s not going to be normal again for probably two-and-a-half to three weeks,” he said.

Meanwhile residents like Wilcox and Richardson still can’t reach their homes by vehicle.

“They’re saying it’s going to get worse, and that scares me,” said Richardson.

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