(Editor's Note: The information below has been obtained by multiple sources on the web. Most photos were supplied by Danielle Melton Photography )
Watauga Lake Fun Facts Location Carter / Johnson counties, Tennessee, USA Coordinates 36°19′58.08″N 82°0′8.53″WCoordinates: 36°19′58.08″N 82°0′8.53″W Lake type reservoir Primary inflows Watauga River, Elk River Basin countries United States Max. length 16.3 mi (26 km) Max. depth 265 ft (81 m) Shore length1 104.9 mi (169 km) Surface elevation 1,959 ft (597 m)
Watauga Lake, located southeast of Elizabethton, Tennessee, was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with the completion of the TVA Watauga Dam and Reservoir. The Cherokee National Forest surrounds both the Tennessee Valley Authority Watauga Reservoir and Wilbur Reservoir in an area of northeast Tennessee that TVA describes as being located "...in some of the most beautiful country in the Tennessee River watershed." Construction of Watauga Dam began in February of 1942 but was curtailed later that year in favor of other wartime building efforts. Work on TVA Watauga Dam resumed in 1946, and finished at the end of 1948, impounding both the Watauga River and Elk River for the purposes of flood control, hydropower generation and downstream navigation on the Tennessee River and Reservoir system.
A Photo of the "Old Butler" Area
The original town of Butler, Tennessee, now sits at the bottom of Watauga Lake. "New" Butler was relocated to higher ground above the summer pool edge of the TVA reservoir. Other nearby Tennessee cities and communities include Hampton, Elizabethton, Roan Mountain, and Mountain City.
Here is one of the last photos taken of the Old Butler town before it was moved. This was the last summer for this small valley town. In a matter of months the people would be gone and all of the houses and other structures destroyed. Crops were harvested that fall for the last time.
This is a photo of the construction site taken some time in the 1940's. Upon completion, the Watauga Dam was one of the largest earth and rock structures in the United States. The dam was built in a valley that was perfectly suited for the dam with high rock walls and a very solid base. After completion, it took almost two years for the lake to fill with water.The Watauga Lake Dam is an earthen structure -- 331 feet high, 925 feet long, and 1275 feet thick at its base. The dam includes 350 million cubic yards of material. Building Watauga Lake incurred 10,274,559 man hours of labor. One man lost his life during Watauga's construction and 48 others were injured according to internet sources.
Watauga Lake covers parts of Johnson and Carter Counties. Another much smaller nearby lake that is not part of the TVA system is the Ripshin Lake located 6 miles (10 km) SW of Roan Mountain.
The North Side of the Watauga Dam
This is an arial photo taken in the 1980's of the "backside" of the dam. the two structures in the water operate the gates that open to allow water to flow from the lake. Water flows through large pipes under the dam and makes its way to the first of two sets of turbines that generate electricity. The water then empties into the Little Wilbur reservoir. Since the water comes from the bottom of the lake, the water temperature stays around 40 degrees Fahrenheit year around. The water then passes through the second set of turbines found inside the Little Wilbur dam. Then the water empties into the Watauga River which flows into the city of Elizabethton
According to the 2004 TVA River and Reservoir Operations Study, Watauga Lake is approximately 16.3 miles (26 km) long, with 104.9 miles (169 km) of shoreline. At the TVA summertime water level target "full pool", the lake surface covers 6,430 acres (26 km²) and the estimated depth of Watauga Lake is 265 feet (81 m) at the dam.At full pool, Watauga's elevation is the highest of all TVA lakes at 1,959 feet (597 m) above sea level. Watauga Lake is regularly released by TVA schedule into Wilbur Reservoir (Wilbur Lake) and impounded by the TVA Wilbur Dam. Water levels in TVA Watauga Reservoir vary about 9 feet (2.7 m) in normal years to provide for seasonal flood storage and for the augmentation of flows of water during drier seasons. Watauga has a flood-storage capacity of 152,829 acre feet (188,512,000 m3). Mor than half of Watauga Lake's shoreline lies within the Cherokee National Forest and cannot be developed. Recreational uses include boating, fishing, water-skiing, and camping. There is no horsepower limit or speed limit for boats operating on the lake. Several fee-based public and private boat launch ramps provide access on the Hampton side of the reservoir.
The release of impounded water from both TVA Watauga Dam and TVA Wilbur Dam provides additional downstream riverine recreational opportunities such as whitewater rafting, trout fishing, and kayaking on the Watauga River. A schedule for power generation times can be obtained by phone at 1-800-238-2264 Houseboat owners have been conducting a large annual July 4 Boat Parade on Watauga Lake since 2001.
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