FEB. 14 – Another February, another Tennessee River flood in Hardin County.
Though the worst has passed for now, waters will continue to rise in some places, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“Looking forward, we’re expecting another inch or so over the next 3-4 days to fall on the river system, and beyond that looks a little wetter still,” said James Everett, manager of TVA River Forecasting Center Operations Support on Tuesday morning.
As of Tuesday about noon, levels at Savannah reached between 372 and 373 feet above sea level, which exceeded the National Weather Service Flood Stage of 370 feet, and were expected to continue to rise for the next day or so.
The flooding has closed two main Hardin County roads, according to Steve Cromwell, assistant road supervisor of the Hardin County Highway Department.
Coffee Landing Road and the various splinter roads in the river bottom area have closed due to flooding, as has Federal Road in the Shiloh community.
“There are some other back roads here and there in bottoms as well, but those are two main thoroughfares people will be concerned with,” Cromwell said.
He added that Coffee Landing Road will remain closed until river levels lower to 370 feet, and Federal Road will remain closed until levels reach about 371 feet.
TVA went into action before the weather pattern began to unfold, using storage at Cherokee, Douglas, Fontana and other tributary reservoirs to store water during the rain and keep it out of the main stem of the Tennessee River to reduce flooding.
Everett explained that the first half of February has been an unusually wet month, with the first 12-13 days experiencing three times the normal rainfall during the same time period. On Monday, the predicted river level peak was 377 feet. Due to a combination of actual rainfall and actions taken by TVA, on Tuesday that expected peak was lowered to about 374 feet ASL.
“We look at conditions every six hours,” Everett said. He explained that it’s a “delicate balancing act,” but constantly monitoring conditions on the river allows TVA to make decisions on the flood pools and spill rates at the seven dams above Savannah, to try to make sure no one area is inundated.
Tom Barnett, general manager of River Management, says TVA increased spilling at most main river dams across the weekend as the rain continued to accumulate across the Valley. As of Monday morning, all main-stem Tennessee River dams were spilling except Fort Loudoun and Watts Bar. Watts Bar was expected to begin spilling Monday afternoon with Fort Loudoun close behind, but whether they had was not provided by press time.
According to Barnett, continuing adjustments at tributary reservoirs including Norris, Melton Hill, Ocoee No. 1 and No. 3, and South Holston will be necessary this week as TVA releases water from these dams to recover flood storage.
“We always prepare in advance for rain events such as these,” Barnett says. “Averting flood damages is part of our TVA mission of service.”
TVA teams used generating turbines and spillways to release up to a million gallons per second at some locations, while holding back and storing water in some tributary reservoirs to reduce the flood crest on the Tennessee River.
TVA’s hydro generation staff “worked tirelessly” throughout the weekend to operate spill gates and help TVA achieve its power generation and river management objectives, Barnett said. TVA’s River Forecasting Center is adjusting releases to minimize flood crest levels and continuing communications with external agencies, the National Weather Service and other stakeholders in and outside the TVA service area.
“We understand that decisions we make above Savannah have a direct effect on Savannah,” Everett said, “and we’ve been in contact with the farmers down there as early as last week, giving them briefings and regular updates.”
Tennessee Valley Farmers President Alex Forsbach said Tuesday that TVA has taken a proactive approach ahead of the heavy rain event to start moving water through the river system.
“Communication has been daily with interest in saving as much winter wheat as possible. The forecast is changing constantly and TVA River Ops is adjusting accordingly – and we are all hoping the rain holds off until summer, when it’s needed much more.”