Despite rain, dry conditions worsen

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Despite a spot of rain this past weekend, things are beginning to dry up once again, with the county's drought status upgraded and the level of Normandy Lake continuing to drop.

According to data provided by the U.S. Drought Monitor, the southeastern portion of Bedford County has slipped back into the "severe" drought category while the rest of the county is considered in a moderate drought.

Meanwhile, the level of Normandy Reservoir continues to fall as much more water is being released than is flowing into the lake. On Tuesday, the lake was at 870.37 feet above sea level, down from a high of close to 873 feet at the end of May, according to TVA data.

According to TVA rain gauges at Normandy Dam, just 0.40 inches of rain fell over the past weekend. TVA data shows that 155 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) is flowing out of the dam while between 30 and 40 cfs is entering it.

Doug Murphy, executive director of the Duck River Agency said that this is typically the driest part of the year and the level of the reservoir is "expected" to drop during this time period.

"We're really in the fourth year of the drought, essentially," Murphy said. "The climatologists are telling us to expect several more years of this."

Murphy said it was possible the region could go through severe dry periods like last year, and said the biggest problem is that ground water is not being replenished.

Fortunately, even if the region does not receive any more rain this summer, there is enough water in the reservoir to last through next winter under normal operations, Murphy said.

But Murphy added that the agency is making plans to address the discharge of water earlier than last year "to project the ecological life" in the Duck River.

Murphy said studies are underway this summer by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to add data to the agency's computer models, so that the "best judgment call" can be made as to when to slow the flow.

Last year, criticism was expressed when the discharge of water continued at summer levels until early this year, leaving the lake level at a record low of 852 feet. Heavy rain events during the spring months brought the lake nearly to the desired summer pool level of 875 feet.

"We expect possible reduction of discharges in the fall," Murphy said. "Depending on what the weather does."

Also, an interagency study will be done during August, Murphy said, which is typically the hottest month of the year, to determine the impact of temperatures on the water quality of the Duck River.

"We're being more proactive than reactive like we were last year," Murphy said.