Groups that support best use practices for Kerr Lake and the Roanoke River Basin are smiling this week as the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced the approval of the QRR Plan that will allow more responsive actions for handling future huge weather and subsequent flood events. Stakeholders, representing groups like the RRBA (Roanoke River Basin Association), Kerr Lake Park Watch, Vance County Tourism Development Authority and others, like the idea of Kerr Lake being kept at a more consistent level by the QRR or Quasi-Run-of-River Plan. And downstream, supporters want the water to come through at a faster pace and move on out quicker.
U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Photo
With recent heavy weather/rain systems threatening this past Memorial Day’s recreational activities like camping in the parks around Kerr Lake, several groups pushed to have special action taken by the commanding colonel of the Corps, but such action is rare and it did not happen. From the viewpoint of Kerr Lake Park Watch and tourism supporters, when park users can’t get to or on a site due to high water, particularly around a holiday, that is difficult in a number of ways.
During the Memorial Day holiday such an occurrence happened when some campers were moved and others were sent home. Although most of the time there are an abundance of camping sites that number about 1,200 all the way around the lake, there is a critical shortage of electric and water sites which nearly all campers want nowadays. Kerr Lake Park Watch’s Frank Timberlake was one of those who had to be moved during the Memorial Day holiday, “We all were eagerly awaiting some intervention for larger water releases by Wilmington (Corps) or both the approval and adoption of the QRR and neither happened then. So I am personally watching the water creep to within 20 feet or so of my camper after I had already moved once.”
Switching gears from camper to parks promoter, Timberlake said of the Corps’ adoption of QRR, “This is monumental and one of the most positive flood operational changes that I’ve ever witnessed for the John H. Kerr Dam and Reservoir. We realize how many different and differently postured stakeholders are involved in the day-to-day operations of Kerr; there are flood managers, power companies, agricultural and forestry entities, fish and wildlife representatives and groups that specifically care about the parks around the lake and groups that are focused on the river(s). The Corps has listened. The Corps has responded. And many, many have won. Our joy is quieted a bit by the recent passing of Andrew Lester, the Executive Director of the RRBA who pushed diligently for this and other good things for the Roanoke River basin. I wish he could have seen it enacted.”
In a statement, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined the specifics of QRR or moving the water through the system at a more realistic amount and pace, “Previously during really wet times, like we experienced this past winter, long periods of 20,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) flood releases from Kerr and Roanoke Rapids Dams were possible,” said Wilmington District Water Management Chief, Tony Young. “Prolonged 20,000 CFS flood releases were causing harm to the lower Roanoke floodplain forest ecosystem due to long periods of standing water, as well as impacting timber operations and recreational access to the floodplain. Only when Kerr lake levels were extremely high could flood releases be further increased to 25,000 and eventually 35,000 CFS, but this did not occur very often.”
Young added that under the QRR plan, flood releases will more closely mimic the natural inflows coming into Kerr on a weekly basis and may be increased above 20,000 CFS on a more frequent basis-up to a maximum of 35,000 CFS for larger storm events. While these higher releases will inundate a larger portion of the floodplain, these higher releases will be made for a much shorter period of time, allowing the river downstream of Roanoke Rapids to return to normal much sooner. In addition, lake levels in Kerr may not get as high and will return to normal levels sooner, allowing Kerr to better handle the next flood event and reducing recreation impacts.
Timberlake added that wildlife downstream was featured in discussions but Kerr Lake wildlife factors in as well, “We saw firsthand Memorial Day weekend that when we lost campsites to water at 308 (feet above mean sea level – 300’ is normal full pool) we also saw a huge amount of displaced wildlife: deer in unexpected places, more raccoon, fox and snake sightings. But we’re all going to take a big step forward now with QRR as the water will be more manageable, so shall the shores and the parks on them, thus making Kerr Lake Park Watch a group of happy campers.”