Randy Hanzlick June 2012
In the latter part of 2010, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began lowering the water level in Lake Blue Ridge so repairs could be made to the dam s penstock (a large tube that carries water through the dam), and to the dam s exterior surface to which rock was added on both sides of the dam. As a result of this process, things happened that could be regarded as good (aside from the dam being repaired), bad, and in some cases, ugly. This account of the results of the drawdown is from the perspective of a frequent visitor who boats on Lake Blue Ridge year around regardless of conditions. It is meant to document observations made by the author and his wife, Mary, who took many photographs of the lake during and after the drawdown, to be used as an historical account of the process. At its lowest during the drawdown, the water level was approximately 90 feet below normal levels.
Interesting and Positive Observations (The Good )
When the water reached its lowest level, several interesting things could be seen. These included:
The old railroad that was used to build the dam (Photo 1)
A pile of rocks probably placed by Native Americans as a marker or meeting place (Photo 2)
A single tree with branches still on the lake bottom (Photo 3)
Multiple tree trunks on the lake bottom from the 1920 s when the lake was made (Photo 4)
The original river bed at Tilley Bend (Photo 5)
The original stream bed at Charley s (Green) Creek (Photo 6)
The original stream bed at Star Creek (Photo 7)
Fish attractors (Photo 8)
The old road from Morganton to Blue Ridge (Photo 9)
Exposed rock on the sidewalls of the lake (Photo 10)
Photos of these observations are shown on the following pages.
Drawdown of Lake Blue Ridge
Photo 2. Rock pile possibly placed by Native Americans as a marker. On east side of lake just before Marker 7.
Photo 7. Star Creek bed looking toward lake from Lower Star Creek Road.
Photo 10. Rock ledges normally not visible when lake is full. Between Marker 7 and Marker 8.
Two things that we searched for but could not find (water was not low enough in center if lake) were:
• The structures that supported the old bridge across the river before the lake was built
• Remnants of the old fort near the intersection of the Toccoa River and Star Creek which was the area reportedly used when the Cherokees were assembled before their forced exit on the “Trail of Tears.”
• Outcomes that were not particularly desirable (The “Bad”)
• Certain aspects of the drawdown at its peak (actually, nadir) undoubtedly had adverse impact on a number of things. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
• The Marina (Photo 11) • Boat launches:
• (Neither the Lakewood nor Dry Branch Road Launches could be used because the water was too low)
• Lake front property owners (Photo 12)
• Businesses who install or move docks (Photo 13)
Photo 11 The Marina. Having to relocate the docks made it difficult for people to access their boats. Further, the Marina certainly took a financial hit because it could not rent boats or sell gas, not to mention that people probably would not buy boats when using them would be difficult. Other than persons who rented slips, the marina would have had basically no customers to use its facilities except those who launched their boats from the low water ramp at the marina.
Photo 12. Charley Creek (Green Creek) area. Many docks not usable at all. No water for recreation. Docks in these unnatural positions on steep slopes were surely predisposed to damage.
Photo 13. Even after the lake water rose, it did not rise to normal levels. As of May 2012, there were at least 70 docks on the lake that could not be used and would be difficult to move. Although the low water level provided a good opportunity to lengthen concrete ramps to docks, build seawalls, and install riff-raff, businesses which build and move docks probably suffered.
Although some aspects of the drawdown resulted in interesting views, some of them were not particularly attractive.
Photo 14. Although it was good that folks could still get to the water to launch boats, the numerous vehicles parked on the shore near the marina and at Morganton Point made the area look like a used car lot in some respects.
Photo 17. It was good to learn the exact location of the various types of fish attractors at numerous places around the lake, some of which consisted of old tires, PVC pipe, and French drain material, but their presence marred the view a bit and looked like some sort of extraterrestrials wandering into the lake.
Photo15. It was interesting to watch the dam repair, but the heavy equipment and view were not exactly pleasing to the eye. Closure of the road over the dam was major inconvenience to residents and tourists in the area.
Photo 16. The river between Markers 7 and 8 was a muddy trench for quite a while.
Photo 18. Not the “waterfront” location the owners were expecting!
Photo 19. Lack of activity at the marina is obvious, even on a beautiful day such as this one.
Photo 20. Even with water level at 1672 feet, parts of the lake get muddy with the boat traffic.
There are several other areas in which the drawdown may have had an adverse effect, either temporarily or permanently.
Water Table. It appears that the water table was impacted by the drawdown. Well water was crystal clear in some areas prior to the drawdown, but since has become dirty and contains iron, magnesium, and other elements. Numerous people are having to buy in-home water filter systems.
Waterlife. Numerous avid fishermen continued to fish the lake during the drawdown, and they would probably know best what the drawdown’s effects on fish and other water life has been (or at least on the ability to catch fish). It would be nice to know what the impacts were, if any. It might be helpful if the DNR and/or TVA prepared a report on the impact of the drawdown on the fish, other water creatures, birds, and plant life.
Economy. The drawdown undoubtedly had an impact on restaurants, hotels, cabin rentals, real-estate, other businesses, and on recreational businesses which rely on the lake and river. Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce has estimates on the economic impact of the drawdown on such entities.
My wife and I found it enjoyable to document the various aspects of the drawdown, and we spent many hours on the lake year-around during the process. In a way, it was somewhat enchanting to be out on the lake at low water levels, looking up at the sides of the lake, and having the feeling of being on the moon or some other place in space, often with virtually no other people around or on the lake. Although it was an interesting experience, we’ve seen it and don’t really want to see it again.
We hope the lake will eventually be managed in a way that the water level stays higher for a longer period of time during the year, and that the winter levels of the past can be changed so the lake water level is higher even in winter.