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Corps cuts dam outflows to cope with drought

SoVaNow.com / December 26, 2012
Minimal rainfall in recent months, on top of lake levels already fallen three feet below normal for this time of year, has prompted the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to reduce outflows from Kerr Dam. As of Saturday, Dec. 15, the power plant at Kerr Dam cut the amount of energy it generates from 3000 megawatts per hour to 2040 megawatts per hour.

Normal water elevation for this time of year, according to Corps Project Manager Michael Womack, is 295 feet. As of Dec. 15, the lake was down to 292 feet. In both 2010 and 2011, lake levels hovered closer to 300 feet during the same period.

Prior to the variance, the Kerr Dam water release requirements were a minimum of 2,900 cubic feet per second [cfs]. The variance implemented on December 15 reduces the minimum discharge from the dam to 2,000 cfs. Womack said the reduced amount still allows the downstream Roanoke Rapids Dam to meet its minimum discharge required under its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] license.

The practical effect of this, said Womack, is that “the amount of water leaving Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) will drop from one-half foot per week to two-tenths of a foot per week,” and the Southeast Power Administration must purchase “replacement power to make up for the power not generated at Kerr Dam.”

Womack said his calculations assume no new rainfall of any significance in the picture.

Earlier this week, Appalachian Power sought permission from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reduce outflows from its Smith Mountain Hydroelectric Project.



“While the current conditions are not entirely out of line with what we’ve seen in prior years, the lack of precipitation on the horizon justifies reducing outflows,” said Teresa Rogers, Appalachian Power hydro supervisor.

“We’re hopeful that the reduced flows will meet needs both upstream and downstream of the project while protecting environmental and biological resources.”

Womack said it was too soon to say whether changes made to the outflows from Smith Mountain Lake would have any significant impact on Kerr Reservoir. “We really need a widespread rainfall in the upper basin, including Smith Mountain Lake and Philpott,” he said.

For now, the Corps has no immediate plans to make further changes on the lake, including the closing of additional boat ramps. “We’ve already shut a majority of the ramps, and those left can still be used unless the water drops another foot or two,” Womack said.

He added that the Corps will continue monitoring conditions across the entire Roanoke River Basin, which is currently listed as being under moderate drought by the USDA drought monitor.

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