- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Valley Authority took the extraordinary step of keeping water levels low in Boone Lake for safety reasons, a TVA official said.

TVA announced last week that water levels will remain low for at least a year while crews work to find the source of a leak under the earthen embankment that is part of the Boone Dam system. The decision could be a huge blow to businesses that rely on tourism dollars during boating season.

The Johnson City Press reports (http://bit.ly/17VAqUK) that the agency took the step out of concerns about pressure a full reservoir of water could put on a seeping foundation.

The agency knows residents and business owners will face hardships over the next year or longer as long as water levels remain low, a TVA spokesman said this week.

“We’re looking into the impacts, but we want people to know that we did not take this decision lightly,” Travis Brickey said.

TVA had to balance the loss of tourism dollars and inconvenience to property owners along the lakeshore with the potential risk to residents and structures downstream of the 63-year-old dam. As a result of the decision to keep a sustained drawdown of the Boone Reservoir, the water levels are 10 feet below normal and 30 feet below summer levels.

Several marinas in shallower areas of the lake will not have enough water for boating. A fishing tournament and a speedboat race scheduled for this summer have been canceled. Some marinas in deeper waters will be open.

It’s still not clear what kind of economic loss the area will face as a result of the sustained drawdown of the reservoir, Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Mabrey said.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has expressed concern about possible environmental and biological consequences, specifically with the local fish populations as a result of possible changes in water temperature and the lake’s surface acreage.

No significant changes in water temperature or flows are expected, Terry Cheek, a TVA fisheries biologist, said in an email. However, the weather temperature could be affected by a long, hot, dry spell, he said. If that were the case, other reservoirs would also be impacted.

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Information from: Johnson City Press, http://www.johnsoncitypress.com

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