Lady of the Lake: Rain, Rain Go Away

Anybody else sick of the rain yet? I was walking from my office to the car and out of nowhere came a torrential downpour. It wasn't even on the radar. I was headed to a spin class and got so discouraged that I bagged it and went home. I texted a friend and complained I was "rain depressed." I know I should be grateful for this abundant natural resource that so many countries and cultures are deprived of, and yet it is putting a "wet rag" on summer fun outdoors and making my job of keeping the lake trash and debris free impossible.

I found this post by "Afun" titled "Fort Loudon Lake, TN ‘THE WORST'" on the forum at themalibucrew.com:

"It was a floating lumber yard. That best describes this lake. I kept an open mind and went. All I ever heard was its Fort Nasty, it smells, etc... Never again will I boat on this lake. It is so bad that I think the Tennessee Wildlife agency deserves a call. The sad thing about all of this is that millions of millions of dollars have been invested in lakeside property by many people. I say it's time for a restoration project."

I agree: It is time for a restoration project.

Here was one of several responses:

"The issue with wood/trash in the water is due to all the rain run-off this year. Two years ago Norris lake was much worse as there were whole trees and truck bed liners floating in the water. Point is, all the lakes can be bad depending on the rainfall amount. Not sure what TVA can really do about it. It will clear up in about a month. As far as pollution, Loudoun is not as bad as you think."

I was glad to see someone take up for our river.

I often get asked how "bad" our lake currently is and if it is better than it was 10 years ago. The general answer is yes—the biological health is much better than it was a decade ago due to enforced emission regulations, utility and stormwater management, and sewage line repairs and updating. I then turned to the TVA website for research data and this what I found that it rated the ecological health condition of Fort Loudoun Reservoir "fair" in 2011.

The website also notes that "In its management of the Tennessee River watershed, TVA strives to balance the competing demands on the river system. But it doesn't have the authority to regulate water pollution. The individual states set their own pollution regulations and grant discharge permits. Both types of controls are primarily meant to govern industrial operations, not community activities. What TVA can (and does) do to improve water quality is collect and share data, identify problems, and work with the TVA region's citizens to achieve solutions."

So it is up to us to take responsibility for the lake's condition. The excessive rainfall this year—approximately 21 inches from May 1 to July 21—has washed everything from all over the watershed into Lake Loudoun. Through erosion and normal dead foliage, the flash flooding creates the "floating lumber yards" down the river. When TVA has to release water from Cherokee Dam to prevent flooding upstream, the Holston, which feeds the Tennessee river, can fill up and flow very fast, catching some farm animals off guard as they are drinking water and they end up drowning.

The rain and the debris it produces is normal—it just seems particularity excessive this year. There are some coves that have filled up with debris beyond help, at least from my organization and the workforce and boats that we have. We are, however, working on a possible solution involving a small barge and a mechanism to lift logs and large objects to be hauled away. I would like to see the wood mulched for soil, which will remove and recycle the mass quantities of the menacing wood for good.

According to its website, TVA does promote watershed protection through its Clean Water Initiative, developing community coalitions to reduce water pollution, treat eroded land, plant vegetation, and collect waste and litter from streambanks and shores.

This last activity is something we at the Fort Loudoun Lake Association are doing daily and it does seem unending, especially after a rain event. We who live near the Fort Loudoun Watershed (including all the streams and tributaries and stormwater runoff) are responsible for the trash and litter. This problem will always continue as long as trash is left anywhere in the vicinity. We must realize that it all ends up in our river. If you have any hesitation about that fact, join us at a volunteer trash pick-up or visit one of our urban creeks right after a rain event. You may be surprised at what ends up in the lake.

We need to spread the word against littering and dumping, then pick ourselves up by the rain-boot straps and collect some litter, join a volunteer effort, or better yet make your own volunteer pick-up event. East Tennesseans are known for their Appalachian ingenuity and collective efforts. If we can get moonshine legalized after so much turmoil over its existence, then surely we can band together to change the condition of our river. While TVA does not have the authority to regulate water pollution (that's up to the EPA and each state), it is up to us to do something about the lake.

Instead of posting a nasty online complaint, ask not what this lake can do for you, but what you can do for this lake!

Angela Howard is the director of the Fort Loudoun Lake Association. Contact her at angela@fllake.org.