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Carolinas residents urged to stay alert to rising lake levels

Lookout Shoals Lake residents in Catawba County have already undergone one voluntary evacuation

Duke Energy and state and local officials are closely monitoring lake levels in the Catawba-Wateree River Basin this weekend, after recent rains spilled water over three dams and prompted voluntary evacuations at Lookout Shoals Lake in Catawba County.

“If it had come up any higher, it would have been in people’s living rooms,” Catawba County Emergency Management Coordinator Karyn Yaussy said of the Jan. 17 flooding.

Only a handful of residents spent the night elsewhere with family members and friends, and emergency officials have seen worse flooding in years past, she said.

“But the amount of rain we had caught our attention,” Yaussy said. Emergency officials sent out phone message alerts and visited neighborhoods prone to flooding.

Rising lake levels also prompted the Lake Norman Marine Commission to caution boaters that their wakes can cause greater damage to docks, piers, seawalls and the shoreline when levels are high. Boaters are liable for any damages, commission Executive Director Ron Shoultz said.

Shoultz said at least one pier near where he lives on the lake in southern Iredell County was damaged during the rains.

Sgt. Jeremy Harrill of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said the weather at least is keeping most boaters ashore. Except for some duck hunters, “you don’t get a lot of boating activity, because it’s so cold,” said Harrill, who monitors waterways in Iredell and Davie counties.

Shoultz, meanwhile, urged boaters braving the weather to watch out for more debris washing into the lake from older piers on floating dock systems that weren’t built to Duke Energy’s height requirements. Duke Energy manages the lake under federal license.

Duke requires the top of a pier be at least a foot above the lake level at “full pond.” Shoultz, a former dock builder, said reputable builders make sure the top of the pier is 28 to 30 inches above the lake level at full pond.

Boats can also come loose from their moorings. Dean Fisher of LKN Custom Dock & Pile Driving in Denver, said his company retrieved a 26-foot by 40-foot boathouse that floated away recently.

On Friday, Duke Energy reported that significant rain in the basin continues to cause “higher than normal downstream flows” and that it’s managing its hydro stations to move the water through the system. Duke operates 13 hydro stations in the basin.

Lake Norman has been just shy of what’s referred to as “full pond” all week. On Saturday, Duke reported Lake Norman’s level at 99.2 feet, well above the target level of 94.3 feet. Full pond is 100 feet.

Lake levels are a relative measure, not the actual depth of the lake.

Duke’s lake level measurement is the difference between the current level of a lake and full pond. Duke considers full pond the point at which water begins to spill over the flood gate or spillway. For the purposes of lake levels, Duke calls this level 100 feet.

Exceeding 100 feet can cause flooding in low-lying areas, Shoultz said. But Lake Norman’s 50-foot buffer requirement between development and the water virtually eliminates concerns over homes being flooded, he said.

Deborah Bowen, whose family lives on a Mooresville cove, said she was just enjoying the scenery. “The beauty of our area is the lake,” said Bowen, of Mooresville-based Princeton Builders. “We love it when it’s high. We don’t want it to get any higher.”

Shoultz has lived at the end of the Brawley School Road peninsula for 15 years and recalls Lake Norman exceeding full pond only twice, in the early 2000s. One day the lake reached 11 inches above full pond for a few hours and seven inches above full pond for a few hours on another day, he said.

Last week, water spilled over the dams at Lookout Shoals Lake as well Lake James in Burke and McDowell counties and Lake Rhodhiss in Burke and Caldwell counties, Duke Energy spokesperson Tina Worley said. Lake James had received 5 1/2 inches of rain, Lake Rhodhiss 5.2 inches and Lookout Shoals 4 inches.

On Friday, Duke Energy reported that it will continue to run two units at Lookout Shoals and units at three hydro stations farther upstream. As a result, Lookout Shoals will continue to spill, but the lake level shouldn’t exceed 101 feet, the company reported. The lake’s recent high was 103.2 feet on Jan. 17.

Duke Energy encourages Lookout Shoals residents to visit www.catawbacounty.nc.gov/alert for updates, or call 828-465-8230 weekdays during regular business hours.

Duke Energy also provides lake level updates and lake-related special announcements at 800-829-5253.

Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter: @ jmarusak
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