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Friday, September 28, 2012

Low water level forces tour organizers to scramble

SML Charity Home Tour using "creative" solutions to deal with low water.

The lake's low water level has not only made boating difficult for some, but it has forced organizers to make special accommodations for the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour, which will be held Oct. 5-7.

Since Sept. 1, the lake has hovered around 3 feet below full pond, according to Todd Burns, corporate communications manager for American Electric Power. Burns blamed the low water on a lack of rainfall.

Charlie Diederich, traffic chairman for the home tour, said a number of "creative" solutions have been employed by organizers to compensate for the greater distance between boats and the docks at each of the eight homes.

"Safety is the first concern," he said.

A "half" step will be built and attached to the existing steps of one dock, while visitors to the John and Beth Nash home at Admiral's Landing will disembark at a nearby community dock. From there, a van will shuttle visitors to the home, Diederich said.

In addition, a barge provided by Dillon Docks will be attached to the dock of one of the homes to facilitate access by visitors.

The low water level "means more things that are below the surface of the water is now exposed," said Burns. "It means boaters need to be extra vigilant about things that may be below the surface."

"People need to be alert," said Diederich.

The small island next to one of the featured homes is "now all out of the water," he said. "Be cognizant that the land continues at the same angle that the land meets the water."

In addition to safety concerns, the lake's water level will mean fewer visitors who travel the home tour by boat can be accommodated by volunteers at one time.

"There may be more of a delay than in previous years," said Diederich. "Normally, at every home, we could accommodate six or eight boats, now it's only three or four."

The past two years have seen low lake levels in September, Burns said.

To compensate for the reduced inflow of water into the lake, AEP has lowered release flows from the federally demanded 650 cubic feet per second to 550 cubic feet per second since Sept. 1, he said.