Oak Ridge rowing association slowed down by heavy rain

Local News

A high-speed staple in East Tennessee is being slowed down by the historic rain that’s hit our region. 
Oak Ridge Rowing Association’s 2,000-meter course, stretching from Calhoun’s On the River to Melton Lake, is currently experiencing faster than usual water flow. The course, which is longer than the length of more than 21 football fields, sits between Norris and Melton Lake dams. Its flow rate is directly impacted by discharge from Norris Dam. 

The flow rate, Sarah McAuliffe, Director of Operations with Oak Ridge Rowing Association says, is usually between 10,000 cubic feet per second or lower, sometimes even as low as 200. Wednesday, according to TVA’s website, the discharge rate was at more than 23,000 cfs.  

This impacts ORRA crews’ ability to install their eight-lane courses. McAuliffe says it will take volunteers with ORRA roughly 1,000 hours to put it together over two long days. The lanes are connected to cables six feet underwater, with a buoy every 10 meters. ORRA crews can install the course in a maximum of 14,000 cfs flow rate. McAuliffe is concerned the fast-moving water, will break debris break away from the shore,  hook onto buoys and eventually rip the course from its place. 

McAuliffe, who rowed for the Lady Vols for four years, is passionate about both the sport and the venue, which hosts teams around the county and from other countries. 

“You can’t go to any other venue in the country and have this quality water. it is completely flat all the time. you don’t have the white caps coming at you. flat water and no wind, whether it’s a crosswind, a tailwind, we don’t experience that. that’s just thanks to all the mountains,” she added.

She expects 20 teams to come to Oak Ridge for spring training in March. The first regatta of the season is March 16-17. McAuliffe says the course is a necessity for that event.  

While it’s inconvenient, she says the rowers will still get some good practice out coming here. Going down the river, she explained, they’ll be moving quite quickly. Going upstream will be a challenge. “Teams that are up in the north, they’re just excited to get on the water because it’s so cold, some are even frozen up there. So they’re just excited to get on the water. Yes, it would be ideal to have our course out and it’s killing us that we can’t put it out there, but it’s not the end of the world,” she said. 
Scott Brooks, a spokesperson with TVA, says they plan to continue spilling 23-24,000 cfs at Norris Dam through, at least, the weekend to recover storage from the massive amount of what we’ve received this month. 

He wrote “currently the levels above the dam are more than 20 feet over normal winter elevations and about 10 feet above summer pool. Our river forecast managers said on a media conference call this morning that we expect to be working to reduce water levels across the system for at least another week, possibly two weeks.  The number of releases at each dam will depend on any additional rainfall during that time. We urge people to check expected flows and reservoir levels on our website and using the lake level app.”

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