What’s to blame for high water on Lake Gaston for the past six to eight weeks? Dominion Power and the Army Corps of Engineers say it the continued rainy weather. But with the Corps proposing a change in how the lake level is being managed, some home owners aren’t convinced it’s just the weather.
Long-time residents along the Lake Gaston shoreline say the late December, January and early February lake levels have been the highest since 1999’s Hurricane Floyd, when the water rose above most Lake Gaston docks. Floyd caused widespread flooding in eastern North Carolina and resulted in most area rivers to exceed their 500 year flood levels.
Many residents complain this year's rains haven’t been “that heavy or that constant.” Yet the lake level has frequently gone above 201 feet (above sea level). Dominion Power says there was one instance above 201 feet in December and 5 periods during January (see graph below; Green indicates normal lake levels, red indicates flood control levels). Dominion concedes several of those instances in January lasted more than one day.
On January 8th, the lake level was recorded at 201.75 feet on the U.S. Geological Service website. However, Dominion Power now says the highest the water got was 201.5 on January 15th and 30th.
Lake Gaston usually operates between 199.5 feet and 200.5 feet. Regulators allow Dominion Power (which operated the Gaston Dam) to go above 201 feet during what are termed “flood conditions.” Dominion has reported “flood conditions” 10 weeks during the period from November 1, 2015 and January 31, 2016.
Many homeowners complain the continued high water has damaged their docks and rip-rap and have the potential to undermine trees along the water’s edge and compromise septic-systems. At a recent meeting of the Lake Gaston Association, homeowners brought dozens of photographs to document their complaints.
At that meeting, representatives from both the Army Corps (which operates Kerr Dam upriver of Lake Gaston) and Dominion Power (which operates the Gaston Dam) insisted the high water doesn’t represent a change in policy but in fact, is simply due to heavy and continued rains over the Roanoke River basin.
The high water comes as the Army Corps has proposed a change in how the Roanoke River dams operate, called the Quasi Run of the River (QRR). But Ashley Hatchell of the Corps says that plan has not yet been approved and isn’t to blame for the recent high water.
If the QRR is approved, Hatchell insists it will help everyone below Kerr Dam including residents along Lake Gaston. She says this new plan will more effectively control flood water, moving it out of Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston and down to the coast at a quicker pace.
But the Lake Gaston Association disagrees and complains that the Army Corps has not taken into consideration the impact the QRR plan will have on Lake Gaston water levels. The LGA has formally protested the QRR and asked for a delay in its implementation. It’s President, Bill Heflin, called on its membership to write the Army Corps.
Dominion Power, the Company that operates Gaston Dam primarily for electric generation, told the Lake Gaston Association its permit allows the lake to be raised under flood conditions. In fact, in an emergency, it can raise the level to 203 feet. But Dominion says it understands that problems occur at levels above 201.5 and tries not to exceed that level.
Anyone who has built a dock or installed rip-rap on Lake Gaston has done so with a permit from Dominion Power, which owns the lake up to a high-water mark. And that permit, Dominion reminds residents, says docks and rip-rap are installed with the understanding Dominion isn't responsible if high water causes problems.