Local residents discuss TVA's two-year reservoir study

By Greg Miller

   A public meeting for local citizens concerned with Tennessee Valley Authority's two-year reservoir study and the impact to Watauga Lake and other water systems affected by their controls was held at the Captain's Table Restaurant Monday evening.
   The group wants the TVA to maintain Watauga Lake's full pool level longer, lowering the lake level on Sept. 15 instead of June 1. The group also wants the TVA to develop and maintain public recreational areas, continue to maintain and govern the excellent water quality, and continue to aerate Watauga River to promote aquatic life and habitat.
   A six-member committee from the group will meet Wednesday to draft a letter to the TVA, attaching petitions filled with signatures.
   According to a brochure on TVA's Web site, TVA is beginning the study by gathering input from the public, other state and federal agencies and technical experts to define the scope of the study.
   This summer and winter, technical experts will collect and review data and perform analyses to evaluate the environmental impacts of TVA's current reservoir operating policies and the potential impacts of alternatives.
   Next spring, TVA will issue the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public review and comment. The Draft EIS documents the issues and alternatives identified early in the process, as well as a preferred alternative.
   In the summer of 2003, TVA will gather comments from the public and other agencies on the draft EIS and prepare a response to the comments.
   In the fall of 2003, TVA will issue the final Environmental Impact Statement, which includes public comments about the draft and responses to those comments. The Final EIS identifies TVA's preferred alternative.
   In late fall 2003, TVA will announce any decision and the rationale for the decision.
   "We're here tonight because we're all concerned about what's going to happen to our lake, and that's good," said Louis Whittemore, facilitator for the meeting. "I'm glad to see this many people here, because I was wondering how the turnout would be.
   "If there's ever an opportunity for us to get any change, right now is the time. They're getting ready to do this two-year study, and what's going to happen for the next 10-15 years is going to be based on what this two-year study produces. I think from a community standpoint, if we're ever going to change it, the next month is the time to set forth what we want as a community, what you want as an individual citizen out of this lake and out of the river."
   Whittemore told the group he recently met with Greg Lowe, director of the study, in Knoxville. Lowe gave Whittemore "some insight as far as TVA's perspective on why TVA's lake levels dropped.
   "There are so many issues that affect our lake level," Whittemore said. "We don't even have control over a lot of them. The option we have is we can change some of these parameters that TVA is using..."
   Johnson County Commissioner Elaine Matherly said she had attended some meetings where she heard that the water was low in the Chattanooga area and that water was needed there.
   "We've been talking about requesting an extension of the high level of the water for another month," said Dr. Samuel Santa Rita, Butler. "Would it be possible for us to take a chance and ask for two months? Unless you ask for what you want, you will never get it."
   "I agree," Whittemore said.
   "And even if you hope to get half, at least you have tried to get the maximum one can get," Dr. Santa Rita said.
   "I moved here five years ago, and I'm a very happy new resident in this area. I enjoy the recreational part of the lake, and I enjoy it most when the water is at the high level. So I would like to see if perhaps we can ask for as much as we can and see how much of that they will give us.
   "If we ask for a month, they might give us two weeks. If we ask for two months, they might give us a month. If we ask for four months, they might give us two. Then we are right where we want to be."
   April 26 is the final date for the public to submit input to TVA prior to the beginning of the study.
   "Everybody is going to be affected by the decision," Whittemore said. "We need all the support we can get."
   Those who are interested in the previously mentioned four objectives of the group should visit one of the area convenience stores, marinas, or other businesses before Thursday to sign the petition "and show your support for this cause."
   For more information, call 926-4050 or visit TVA's Web site at www.tva.com.