Drought Ongoing Despite the Rain

Through recent rains have dialed back the risk of wildfire, they’ve done little to relieve the overall dry conditions in the Tennessee Valley. The region remains in moderate to severe drought status according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

DECEMBER 12, 2016—Rainfall in the Tennessee Valley over the past week has improved conditions and dialed back risk of wildfire, prompting the reopening of TVA's public lands. Levels from October 1 to today are now at 80 percent of normal, up from 60 percent on November 30.

However, runoff across the Tennessee River watershed is only at 37 percent of normal, an improvement over the 21 percent seen on November 30. However, October runoff was the lowest level in 142 years of record—and recent rains were not enough to lift the Valley out of drought conditions. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire Tennessee Valley remains in severe to extreme drought, with a few pockets still classified as exceptional drought. See the map here.

As a result, reservoir levels are lower than normal; if rainfall continues at current levels, there is a chance that reservoir levels could be impacted by March. 

Despite these adverse conditions, TVA’s River Management Team has maintained minimum flows, following its River Operating Policy to help minimize impacts on reservoirs across the Valley. Status of critical functions today:

  • Flood control: Well positioned to handle flood conditions.
  • Navigation: Minimum elevations maintained for commercial navigation.
  • Water supply: Water levels maintained above intake elevations on reservoirs and regulated rivers.
  • Water quality: Minimum flows and dissolved oxygen levels maintained.
  • Recreation: Low-level access to most reservoirs remains available.

A Flexible System

“December 2015 was marked by heavy rains and flooding, but by March 2016 things had dried up and we spent the summer saving every drop of water we could,” says David Bowling, general manager of River Management. “It is December again and even though we are still behind on rainfall, one thing we know for certain is that conditions in the Tennessee Valley can change and change quickly. We are very fortunate to have a system of dams and reservoirs that allow us to buffer these changing conditions and plan for extremes both wet and dry.”

Bowling commended the River Management team’s hard work, collaboration and vigilance in successfully managing the driest, hottest spell it has faced since 2007—a drought of record for the Tennessee Valley region. He also cited technological advances implemented recently by his teams, including:

  • Excellent hydrologic gauge network availability, with rain gauges measuring rainfall and runoff with 99% accuracy  
  • Completion this year of a major project to replace the liquid oxygen diffuser system at Douglas Lake to improve aquatic habitat
  • Upgraded and improved hydrothermal and hydrological modeling capabilities
  • Optimized liquid oxygen use
  • Continual River Forecast Center model upgrades

How You Can Help

Some municipalities are encouraging residents to take voluntary water conservation measures. Some tips for conserving water include:

  • Check for leaks. In your toilet tank put a few drops of food coloring or leak identification tablets. If the coloring appears in the bowl within 30 minutes without flushing, you have a leak. Fixing a leak can be as simple as tightening loose connections, wrapping joints with Teflon-Tape before reconnecting or replacing the parts inside the toilet tank.
  • Save five gallons per flush by replacing any toilet made before 1992 with a newer ultra-low-flush model.
  • Fix any leaky faucets. One drop per second can add up to 165 gallons a month!
  • Place plastic bottles filled with water in your toilet tank or use an inexpensive toilet dam to block part of the toilet tank. This can save 11 gallons of water per day. Avoid using bricks, which can damage the tank.

The River Forecasting Center

TVA's River Forecasting Center, located in Knoxville, Tenn., helps monitor the Tennessee River system to prevent flooding—but also to manage the system in times of drought as well. Their duties include:

• Issuing forecasts of reservoir levels and releases at TVA dams
• Setting hourly generation release schedules for power-producing dams
• Providing notifications during flood events
• Evaluating cooling water needs for coal and nuclear plants
• Monitoring aquatic health

Read more about the River Forecasting Center.

Learn about TVA Water Supply

Part of TVA's river stewardship is not only managing the water system for flood control, navigation and recreation, but also to maintain adequate water supply for other crucial uses. There must be enough water available for TVA to cool its own nuclear and fossil power plants. There must be enough available to serve the agricultural and industrial customers who keep our economy strong. And there must be enough to support plant and animal life—including the drinking and cooking water that sustains human health. Learn more about TVA Water Supply manages these priorities.