ROANOKE, Va., Sept. 15, 2015 – Appalachian Power, operator of the Smith Mountain Project in southwest Virginia, urges added caution by boaters on both of its lakes because of the lack of recent sizeable rainfall in the project’s watershed.
The adjusted level of the lakes is currently down more than two feet from full pond and during periods of power generation, when water passes through the dams, levels may be lowered even more and expose shoals to unsuspecting boaters.
Smith Mountain Project is a 636-megawatt pumped storage hydroelectric facility on the Roanoke River that utilizes an upper reservoir (Smith Mountain Lake) and a lower reservoir (Leesville Lake). Water stored in Smith Mountain Lake first passes through turbine-generators in the powerhouse to produce electricity and is discharged into Leesville Lake. From there some water is released through the Leesville Dam or pumped back into Smith Mountain. The project is operated by Appalachian Power.
“We have had isolated and sometimes heavy rain, but nothing widespread since July that will positively affect the levels at Smith Mountain,” said Kenneth Morrison who manages navigation and recreational aspects of the more than 20,000 surface-acre facility. “We need to receive some sustained measurable rainfall around the Roanoke, Blackwater and Pigg rivers to bring levels back up.”
“July, August and September are historically our dry months every year,” Morrison added.
During this period of lower water levels at both Smith Mountain and Leesville lakes, boaters should be more observant and use lower speeds, especially along shorelines, in coves, near islands, and in low light. Boat passengers should always wear approved personal flotation gear on the water.
Appalachian Power has been operating the Smith Mountain Project under mandated water release protocol during summer months using releases that allow a minimum flow of water to accommodate recreational and commercial activities downriver. After Labor Day, the minimum discharge was reduced by about one-third.
Lake residents, regular boaters and visitors can view current lake levels and in-flow/discharge information at http://www.aep.com/environment/conservation/hydro/ .