by: Greg Suskin
LAKE NORMAN, N.C. – Six inches of water on a lake the size of Lake Wylie or Lake Norman doesn’t seem like much, but Duke Energy said it can make a big difference when it comes to drinking water production and recreation.
Duke Energy often closes boat ramps during times of drought.
In the summer heat,
water usage is higher and so is evaporation, which takes millions of gallons away from lakes and rivers.
Low water levels consistently force closures during summer months.
Tony Walker spends a lot of time on Lake Wylie.
“If the water was raised, you wouldn’t have that problem. You wouldn’t see houseboats sitting in the mud,” he said.
Duke Energy is asking federal regulators to approve raising the water level.
The utility wants to raise the water level in Lakes James, Norman and Wylie from May to October, when demand is the highest and rain is often at the lowest frequency of the year.
Mark Oakley, with Duke Energy, said the increase would add 8 billion gallons of water to the Catawba River basin each year.
“We’ll put that extra 8 billion gallons in the bank, to help us get through that summer season,” Oakley said.
He said that taking one extra step in the summer will also
ensure enough drinking water for the Charlotte region for another decade.
Other plans Duke Energy has put in place are expected to add another 40 years to the water supply, but some people have questions about them.
Catawba riverkeeper Sam Perkins told Channel 9 he has several concerns about Duke Energy’s plan.
First, he said, he thinks the water management plan won’t buy as much time as the utility thinks, considering Charlotte’s growth and the growing demand on water use.
Second, he said flooding problems could arise in flood-prone areas with higher lake levels.
Oakley said the study looked at 82 years of water records for the Catawba River basin and found an increase of less than 1 percent in high-water situations.
Still, the community now has a chance to weigh in on the plan before it goes out for final approval.
Perkins said the plan takes steps toward addressing drought conditions, but there are still several questions that must be answered about the long-term health of the Catawba River basin.
Oakley said in order to build that extra water storage in area lakes, Duke Energy is likely to reduce power production each spring, to make sure there’s enough water for the planned summer increase.
For lake users such as Walker, it’s a start.
“As August and September rolls around, water levels start to go down, and it’s a concern for everybody,” he said.
If the plan to make the lakes 6 inches deeper is approved, it may not happen for a while. Due to ongoing work at the Wateree Dam to improve flood management, the water levels may not be increased until 2025.
Now, federal regulators are still weighing Duke Energy’s request, and a decision could be several months away.
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