TVA Pulling The Plug On Blue Ridge
Anglers could be without a boat ramp for a six-month period.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is set to start its long-term, deep-water drawdown of Lake Blue Ridge on July 15.
Once the drawdown begins, it will take approximately four months to get the lake to the lowest level needed for work to repair the penstock, a gate that controls water flow from the lake, and the dam itself. The water will be held at about 1,625 feet, about 60 feet lower than summer pool, for approximately six months beginning in late October.
There will be no boat ramps available once the lake reaches its lowest level, according to TVA spokesman Travis Brickey. However, during the drawdown, TVA and the owners of the Lake Blue Ridge Marina have negotiated a deal to allow free launching at the marina — which has the best low-water-access ramp on the lake — until the ramp becomes unusable. Also, slips at the marina are being moved to deeper water where boats will be in the water and customers can access them throughout the low-water period.
“We’re going to try to keep it open as long as we can, but there will come a point where we have to shut it down,” said Herb Windham, the owner of Lake Blue Ridge Marina. “It’s also worth mentioning that launching a boat from the low-water ramp will probably require a 4X4 truck.”
While drawing down the lake, fish populations will obviously be condensed into a smaller area, potentially making them easier to catch.
“We’re encouraging everyone to keep their limit of spotted bass,” said DNR Fisheries Biologist Jim Hakala. “They’re an invasive species that compete with the native smallmouth and walleye.”
At the same time, anglers are encouraged to practice catch-and-release with smallmouth bass.
Small boats (boats you can carry) may still be launched on the lake during the period when the low-water ramp is closed.
“We’re not shutting the lake down completely during any of this project,” Brickey said.
DNR and TVA officials are optimistic the drawdown will not negatively effect the tailwater. There is a danger that water temperatures higher than normal and low dissolved oxygen content could degrade water conditions in the productive trout fishery below the lake in the Toccoa River tailrace. However, both DNR and TVA have said they’ll be working in partnership to regularly monitor temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels on both the lake and the tailwater.
Should something go awry, the agencies have a plan to correct the situation as soon as possible, said TVA project engineer Wayne Oliver.
Overall though, all involved in the project point to weather as a big variable. How much rain the system receives will affect the period of time it’ll take to draw down the reservoir and to refill the lake. On the bright side, periodic deep drawdowns will not be required once this work is done, Oliver said.
The hours of wadable time for fishermen on the tailwater will not be significantly different during the drawdown than it has been in the past, according to Brickey.
The main reason the project must be completed is safety and stability of the dam. Originally built in 1931, the dam and penstock are decades behind in the need for renovation. Once the penstock is repaired, the dam itself will be strengthened with more materials like rock, gravel and earth.
According to the TVA project timeline, the entire project is estimated to be completed, and the lake should be back close to full summer pool by the end of August 2011.
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