What is with that lake level?

I heard that question a ton when I first moved to High Rock Lake. I was warned by folks not living on the lake that every winter the water level is so low that you can drive your truck or jeep out past your dock. “You should see the pictures from 2002.” Well, that is old news and by the way, 2002 was the year the entire southeast was in a drought. Rowan County’s High Rock Lake was not an anomaly. Well, every body of water within one hundred plus miles was below expected recreational levels; a drought will do that.


Fog over High Rock Lake.


Now as I write this, in late October/early November 2020, we have had our share of rain, thanks to Tropical Storm Zeta recently, among others in past two months. Just this past week, the Yadkin River overran its banks in Davidson County according to the National Weather Service. Several roads were closed due to flooding, downed trees, and power lines.

With that said, High Rock Lake has water, and that means continued recreation; fishing, kayaking around the gold and red trees, and calming waters to enjoy the fall weather.


Who Owns the Lake and Who Controls the Water Levels?

High Rock Lake was formed as one of the four Yadkin Project hydroelectric dams built by ALCOA in 1929 for the purpose of producing the power needed for the smelting of aluminum during a time when electricity was still scarce in many rural areas of N.C.

The surface of High Rock Lake covers approximately 15,000 acres and 365 miles of shoreline, most of it still natural. HRL is the second largest man-made lake in the south. Homeowners own their parcels, but the overseeing and ownership of the water flow and lake bottom falls under the domain of the Yadkin Project hydroelectric system.

Cube Hydro Carolinas took over ownership of the Project in 2017 and more recently, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy has purchased Cube Hydro Carolinas. Eagle Creek R.E. was founded in 2010 to acquire, enhance, and operate small hydroelectric power facilities. Eagle Creek currently owns and operates 86 hydroelectric facilities representing 640 megawatts of capacity across the United States. Eagle Creek also has ownership interests equivalent to approximately 12 megawatts in 14 other hydroelectric facilities and two solar facilities in New England. Eagle Creek is a privately owned entity and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation.


One of the turbines that helps control the lake levels.


Cube Hydro Carolinas operates the Project reservoirs at or above the normal minimum elevation as depicted on the four operating curves contained within the Project license last approved in 2016 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Generally, the High Rock Reservoir operating curve requires a minimum elevation of up to four feet below full pool during the period of April through October, and a minimum elevation of up to 10 feet below full pool during the period of November through March.

The Tuckertown Reservoir operating curve requires Cube Hydro Carolinas to operate the reservoir between the full pool reservoir elevation and three feet down, year-round. Cube Yadkin must operate Narrows Reservoir and Falls Reservoir within 5 feet and 4 feet of full pool year-round, respectively.

Lake level information and a fluctuation forecast are readily available at http://cubecarolinas.com/lake-levels/.


Are there any exceptions to the reservoir operating curves?

Yes, Cube Hydro Carolinas operates the Project in accordance with the operating curves except as needed to maintain required minimum flows, or as provided under the Low Inflow Protocol (LIP) (http://cubecarolinas.com).


What are the required minimum instream flows at the Project?

Except when operating under the LIP or HPMEP, Cube Yadkin must operate the Project to provide a daily average minimum flow from the Falls development per the following schedule: June 1 – January 31: 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), February 1 – May 15: 2,000 cfs, and May 16 – May 31: 1,500 cfs.


How does Cube Hydro Carolinas measure inflow into the Yadkin Project?

Cube Yadkin relies on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Yadkin College (02116500) gauge to measure flows into High Rock Lake.


How do inflows to High Rock Reservoir affect reservoir levels?

The ability to maintain Project reservoirs at higher levels is dependent on there being sufficient inflow. When inflow to the Project is less than the required minimum flow release from the Falls development, water stored in High Rock Reservoir and/or Narrows Reservoir is utilized to satisfy the minimum release requirement.


How does local weather impact inflow and reservoir elevations?

The watershed feeding the Yadkin Project lies largely to the northwest of High Rock Reservoir. Rainfall in this area has the greatest impact on inflows into the Project. Rainfall on or to the southeast of the High Rock Reservoir has little impact on inflows or elevations. Excessive heat and dry weather will also increase evaporation of water in the reservoirs.

Licensees have conditions in place that require water releases for the benefit of fishery, insect, or wildlife habitat or releases may be made to allow for canoeing, rafting, and kayaking. Picnic areas, fishing access, and hiking trails are typically part of recreation plans that have been established with public input. The preservation of historic and cultural assets that are within the confines of hydro developments is quite common. Some hydropower developments are used to provide clean potable water for municipalities, while others may have the capability to mitigate impacts from flood waters.

Hydroelectric turbine-generators can rapidly change their output to meet power system needs, more so than other forms of power generation. Therefore, hydropower is counted on to provide power during high demand periods and system emergencies.


No matter the water level, HRL is still serving up some amazing views!


So, the big takeaway is High Rock Lake levels fluctuate on a daily and seasonal basis due to weather conditions and electricity generation. For instance, today the lake is 0.31 feet below full pond (I do not have a beach now), yet the view and access are still beautiful.


I hope to see you all out on the lake! (From a distance.)


I would love to hear from you on what your favorite lake activity is, or someone that you would like me to feature in 2021. Please email me at highrock@YourRowan.com.


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