published Friday, June 15th, 2012

Normandy, Tims Ford fall feet below normal

Beechgrove, Tenn., residents Michael Jernigan and his son, Wayne, 7, fish at Normandy Lake. Michael Jernigan's head would be about a foot under water if the lake was at its normal level. TVA officials say the reservoir is not likely to reach usual summertime levels without "significant" rain.
Beechgrove, Tenn., residents Michael Jernigan and his son, Wayne, 7, fish at Normandy Lake. Michael Jernigan's head would be about a foot under water if the lake was at its normal level. TVA officials say the reservoir is not likely to reach usual summertime levels without "significant" rain.
Photo by Ben Benton.

FAST FACTS

U.S. Geological Survey officials use readings from 36 gauges on Tennessee's recreational and commercial rivers to provide a snapshot of current water conditions throughout the state. Below are latest elevations at select reservoirs along the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

Location Elevation Thursday Approximate elevation June 14, 2011

Chickamauga // 682.6 feet // 682 feet

Guntersville // 594.8 feet // 594 feet

Great Falls // 796.5 feet // 800 feet

Nickajack // 634.5 feet // 634 feet

Normandy // 867.8 feet // 875 feet

Tims Ford // 882.8 feet // 888 feet

Watts Bar // 740.9 feet // 741 feet

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

NORMANDY, Tenn. -- Normandy Lake on the Duck River is so low, anglers fishing from the shoreline would be under about seven feet of water if levels were normal, officials say.

"It's real low. It's usually up to those rocks over there," angler Michael Jernigan said with a wave toward the rock-fortified bank about 150 feet behind him and his 7-year-old son, Wayne.

The Beechgrove, Tenn., residents were wetting their lines in Normandy Lake on Tuesday, a few hundred yards below the bridge on Lyndell Bell Road.

Another 200 feet into the water, Dwayne Chissom and fellow anglers Bob and Johnathon Ferrell, all from Cannon County, said they had no trouble navigating the lake's low water, but they noted it's much lower than they're used to seeing it.

"It's a lot lower than usual -- six feet at least," Chissom said.

Officials with TVA and the Duck River Development Agency say Chissom's about right -- seven feet low, actually, though the reservoir has been lower at times. Officials said low water levels so far have had no impact on drinking water, but recreation is suffering.

Bob Ferrell said water levels mean anglers must fish different areas than their favorite hot spots.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey say stream levels in Tennessee are at historic lows.

"These record low stream flows are likely attributable to decreased rainfall in the springtime, combined with warmer spring temperatures and an earlier start to [the] growing season, which reduces the amount of available water in streams," USGS Tennessee Water Science Center hydrologist Rodney Knight said in a release.

The waterways with the most decreased flows include the Collins, Elk, Obey and Sequatchie rivers, according to USGS officials.

TVA records show that stream flow from Guntersville, Ala., to Chickamauga and Watts Bar is nearer normal, which means lake levels are fine for this time of year.

Knight said data for May is still preliminary, but stream flow for the month in the Elk River, which flows into Woods Reservoir and Tims Ford Lake, marked the lowest point in 47 years, while stream flow for the Duck River, which feeds Normandy Lake, was the third lowest in 63 years of taking measurements at that site, officials said.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fishery biologist Pat Black said stream levels so far have not had a noticeable impact on populations, but fish are acting differently in reservoirs where levels are low.

"It's affected the way the fish are moving around and the habits that they have," Black said. "It doesn't seem to be hurting any fish populations. We'll sample this fall so we'll have a better idea whether there was any effect on spawning activities."

Stream oxygen levels are monitored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers monitors and, so far, they seem "OK," Black said.

Rain gauges show the Duck River area received about half an inch of precipitation overnight Monday for a total of a little more than two inches so far in June, but that's literally just a drop in the bucket, TVA officials said.

"In Middle Tennessee, we have two reservoirs in particular that are struggling to meet summer pool," said Chuck Bach, TVA's general manager of river scheduling. "Tims Ford right now is about six feet below normal and the second one is Normandy Lake and it's about seven feet below normal."

The banks of Tims Ford where it passes under U.S. Highway 41A in Estill Springs, Tenn., has grass growing where the water should be.

Bach said April and May were some of the driest months on record in Middle Tennessee.

"Because there was so little rain, there is almost no runoff because, whenever it does rain, it's being absorbed by the trees and the grass," he said. "We're trying to hold onto everything we can above the dams for recreation and water supply purposes."

TVA and Duck River officials say they gained experience with shifting Middle Tennessee lake levels from the 2007 drought.

With water levels so low, boaters are being warned to watch for sand and rock bars and stumps that normally would be safely submerged.

Duck River Development Agency Executive Director Doug Murphy said Normandy's boat ramps are functional but most public swimming areas and privately owned boat docks are high and dry.

The Duck River agency was created in 1965 to maintain and develop the Duck River Watershed lying in Bedford, Coffee, Hickman, Marshall and Maury counties.

A local group dubbed the Drought Management Task Force, made up of federal and state officials in the river area, is keeping an eye on levels, he said. The group -- formed during the 2007 drought -- is using its experience with the drought to make use of river modeling to predict what's going to happen and is working to produce a draft of guidelines for dealing with low water levels, Murphy said.

Officials said April and May 2012 were much drier than spring 2007, but the lake was even lower during the fall of 2007 and the following winter due to continued lack of rain.

Arnold Engineering and Development Center facilities nearby in Tullahoma, Tenn., are served by Woods Reservoir but levels there are kept almost constant by Arnold, according to U.S. Air Force officials.

Arnold Engineering spokesman Jason Austin said officials have maintained levels in the smaller Woods Reservoir, which is used by the base for drinking water and cooling for military testing activities.

"Woods only varies 1.5 feet, max [from] summer to winter levels," Austin said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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