At the end of June 2019, Appalachian Power had already removed debris from Smith Mountain and Leesville lakes almost equal to the total amount taken out of the water in all of 2018.

“Over the past few years, these two lakes have seen a dramatic increase of waterborne debris—mostly natural material—flowing in from tributaries during high water events,” said David Agee who coordinates debris removal for the company. “Appalachian Power has responded quickly and dramatically to remove the debris from the water.

“Our employees and contractors continue to focus on this task and are working long hours to remove the sometimes dangerous floating debris from main channels and areas accessible to our work barges,” Agee added.

Below is the amount of debris removed by Appalachian in the first six months of 2019 compared to totals in the previous two years:

  • Smith Mountain Lake: 1,410 tons through June; 1,090 tons in 2018; 1,310 tons in 2017.
  • Leesville Lake: 1,730 tons through June; 2,323 tons in 2018; 1,676 tons in 2017
  • Total: 3,140 tons through June; 3,413 tons in 2018; 2,986 tons in 2017 

Most of the debris appears to be from upstream areas and is natural material—such as branches and cut tree trunks. Inflow from the Roanoke River, which has a watershed that covers more urban and populated areas than other project tributaries, includes slightly more human-made materials.

Appalachian Power owns and operates movable barge platforms to remove the debris using its employees on both Smith Mountain and Leesville lakes. The company also hires external contractors to supplement its barges.  

Residents and boaters are asked to report debris via the company’s project website at www.SmithMountainProject.com. If boaters spot a dangerous situation they can, if safely possible, tow the items out of the navigation channel.

Boaters are urged to be on the lookout for floating debris on or just below the water surface following heavy rain or high-water events. They should adjust their speed accordingly and always wear personal flotation gear.

Smith Mountain Project is a 636-megawatt pumped storage hydroelectric facility on the Roanoke River that utilizes an upper reservoir (Smith Mountain Lake) and a lower reservoir (Leesville Lake). Combined, the project includes about 600 miles of shoreline. Water stored in Smith Mountain Lake passes through turbine-generators in the dam powerhouse to produce electricity and is discharged into Leesville Lake. From there some water is released through the Leesville Dam or pumped back into Smith Mountain. The 50-year old project was built and is operated by Appalachian Power and is a key tourism and economic driver for southwest Virginia.

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