TVA spillways churn as floodwaters recede

TVA spillways churn as floodwaters recede

March 11th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

The Tennessee River covers a significant portion of the riverfront as steady rains from the past couple days have saturated the Chattanooga area. Staff Photo by Dan Henry/The Chattanooga Times Free Press

While lingering clouds drizzled less than an inch of rain on the Tennessee Valley on Thursday, millions of gallons of water surged through TVA dams as the agency continues to manage the increase of rainwater in its reservoirs.

TVA started spilling water last week in anticipation of flooding from forecasted rains, and its spill rates peaked Thursday with water churning through its Nickajack Dam spillways at 770,000 gallons per second, said Chuck Bach, TVA's general manager of river scheduling. That doesn't include the almost 300,000 gallons that were being pulled through the dam's electricity-generating turbines, he said.

But these aren't anywhere close to extreme levels.

"This would be on the lower end of the spill rate," Bach said. "We can go way higher if we need to."

More than 6 inches of rain has fallen on the Chattanooga area since Saturday, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. Though area creeks crested Thursday evening, little flooding damage was reported.

As South Chickamauga Creek in East Ridge hit its peak flooding at 21 feet, several roads were flooded but city police reported no major problems.

Rate of water running through dam Thursday

• Chickamauga Dam - 287,000 gallons per second

• Watts Bar- 306,000 gallons per second

• Nickajack - 770,000 gallons per second

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

"It's got to get well above 20 feet before we start implementing evacuation plans," said East Ridge Police Department spokesman Erik Hopkins. "As long as it stays dry, I don't think we're going to have to worry about that,"

Residents at Battleview Apartments in Fort Oglethorpe were drying out Thursday after more than 3 feet of water stood in the parking lot and at the foot of some buildings Wednesday, according to resident Amber Stanyer.

"All these people left the complex because they were afraid they'd get flooded out," she said. "Another woman and I were the only people left in our building."

The complex suffered severe water damage and several families were displaced after heavy flooding in September 2009.

The water from this week's flooding has receded, but several maintenance workers still were cleaning up around the complex Thursday afternoon.

Rain Amounts

Saturday - 2.34 inches

Tuesday - 1.1 inches

Wednesday - 2.5 inches

Thursday - 0.18 inches

Source: National Weather Service, Morristown Tenn.

For the next few days, the Tennessee Valley should be in the clear, according to WRCB-Channel 3 meteorologist David Karnes.

Some sprinkles and stray snow flurries were expected to fall on the Tennessee Valley area Thursday evening and into the morning, but the sun will be back out in the afternoon, he said.

"We'll get to have a few days to dry out over the weekend before it gets rainy again on Monday," Karnes said.

TVA will continue spilling water for about 10 to 14 days, but it will begin easing its spill rates with the weekend, Bach said.

And once TVA has recovered some storage capacity at its nine dams, they'll start pulling water out of the tributary reservoirs further up.

"It's like playing traffic cop. We're holding water back in our tributary systems so too much doesn't flow out in the Chattanooga area," TVA spokesman Travis Brickey explained.