Boone Lake on track to be at or near full pool next summer
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Labor Day has come and gone, and with it another summer.
But if all goes well in the coming months, next summer could very well bring something many folks around our region have longed for since 2014 – Boone Lake at or near its typical summer pool. Sam Vinson, principal project manager of TVA’s Boone Dam Project, told the News & Neighbor last Wednesday he is cautiously optimistic the Boone Lake reservoir could be back up near the ordinary high water mark of 1,382 feet next summer.
“We’re doing everything short of saying we’re going to be at summer pool,” Vinson said, adding that reaching that goal will be dependent on the amount of rainfall received in the spring and early summer as well as data gained during a controlled raising of the water level in the spring.
Last week, the TVA released its monthly newsletter outlining plans to begin fluctuating the lake level in October. Beginning the week of Oct.15, TVA will begin raising the lake an average of two feet per week until it rises 7 or 8 feet about the current level of approximately 1,352 feet.
This initial increase will provide important data to the project team, but it will also allow reservoir restoration efforts to hit high-gear in anticipation of a return to normal operations. Previously inaccessible coves will become accessible, allowing debris to be removed and hard-to-reach vegetation to be trimmed.
“There are some coves we cannot get our barge into, and by going to 1,360 (feet), it lets us access those and get ride of some of that vegetation,” Vinson said. “It also allows us to get to some of the debris fields we’ve mapped.”
The issue of rampant vegetation growth on the exposed lakebed of Boone Lake was first reported by the News & Neighbor in September of 2017. In recent years, TVA crews have done extensive work maintaining the vegetation on the lakebed, working with property owners around the lake to ensure trees and brush are trimmed on a regular basis.
Now that the lake is preparing to return to normal operations, there is a greater urgency to remove anything that could become floating debris when the lake rises to its highest level in seven years next summer. That starts with tables, chairs and docks placed on the exposed lakebed by property owners during the extended drawdown.
“If property owners have placed temporary items below the normal operating pool, we’d like them to go ahead and remove them at this time,” Vinson said. “We don’t want that to become floating debris. People have placed other structures, and we’d like those moved so they don’t become underwater hazards.”
Vinson said the annual Boone Lake Clean-up, which is scheduled for Sept. 12, now takes on a greater sense of urgency with normal operations on the horizon. Removing trash and other debris now will ensure the lake is uncluttered when the water levels rise next spring. More information on the event, hosted by the Boone Lake Association, can be found by calling 423.360.5057 or emailing email@example.com.
Once the lake is raised to 1,360 feet this fall, it will remain at that height through mid-March. At that time, Vinson said the lake will rise no more than two feet per week with the goal of getting the reservoir at or near its ordinary high water mark next summer. Vinson expects the lake will look like what folks were used to seeing prior to the repair project barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Vegetation management efforts should create a safe recreational boating zone, but Vinson said boaters will need to be especially vigilant in the spring as the lake level gradually rises.
“Every week conditions are going to change,” he said. “Boaters are going to have to be aware. A rock that wasn’t underwater last week is now underwater. Until we get on this curve and get it up to summer pool, people are going to have to be vigilant.”
A silver lining to the lengthy repair process might come in the form of excellent fishing in Boone Lake once operations return to normal. Vinson pointed out several initiatives by TVA and TWRA over the last few years aimed at improving conditions for the fish population in the lake. Concrete reef balls have been placed on the lakebed and 400 acres of native grasses have been planted to help promote a vibrant fish habitat.
Vinson pointed to Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, which became a premier fishing destination following the TVA’s Wolf Creek Dam Repair.
“They have had a boom in their economy since they have finished that repair because of the fishing,” he said. “We would not be surprised if Boone becomes one of those major fishing destinations, which would really help the economy following the reservoir fluctuation.”
As the Boone Dam Project nears the finish line, Vinson said he hasn’t really had a chance to stop and reflect on the complex repair job, but he stands behind the work done on the project, which is on track to be completed ahead of schedule.
“We are so confident in what we’ve done,” he said. “Really the hard spots around the repair are behind us. Now it’s just making sure we communicate with all the stakeholders.”