Could a flooding disaster happen in East Tennessee?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Record flooding in Texas from Tropical Storm Harvey is bringing flood-control to the forefront for cities throughout the U.S.

“To say that flooding will never happen here would not be accurate,” James Everett, operations support manager for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said. “Flooding can happen in East Tennessee.”

Here in East Tennessee, the TVA has been monitoring rainfall forecasts and making preparations in an effort to minimize flooding from rain.

“It would be very rare for a flood like Harvey, which was a coastal event that of course impacted Texas and Louisiana, it would be very rare for that type of hurricane to maintain its strength all the way up to the Tennessee Valley,” Everett said. “However we have seen some very high rainfall totals before from tropical storms, so we do consider that and we do track these storms very closely, because we want to be prepared if we do get heavy rainfall.”

Everett says his team talks with the National Weather Service multiple times a day to stay updated on rainfall forecasts. They then use that information to make decisions and put together plans.

“One of the biggest plans we looked at was looking at some of those areas that might get the heaviest rainfall and going ahead and releasing some water out of those dams, drawing those pools down slightly,” Everett said. “We have to be mindful that Labor Day weekend is coming up, so we can’t empty those reservoirs completely. We want to hold on to some, but we do want to get those reservoirs in good condition, particularly in the western part of the valley, because that’s where we expect the heavier rainfall amounts.”

Jim Hagerman, Knoxville’s Director of Engineering, says the city has been taking flood-control measures of its own to alleviate flooding in Knoxville.

Since 2015, the city has completed three major multi-million dollar projects, including on Westland Drive, Prosser Road, and Cross Park Drive. In 2013, the city of Knoxville also completed a $1.5 million storm-water drainage upgrade on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to help eliminate periodic flooding in that area.

“There’s a constant amount of maintenance work that goes on and occasional improvement projects where there are chronic issues with flooding,” Hagerman said. “We mostly make sure the drainage routes are open and ready to accept water and move it along through the system with minimal amount of roadway flooding and structure flooding.”

Though the chances of a Harvey-like storm hitting East Tennessee are highly unlikely, Hagerman says there’s only so much flood-control projects can do to prevent flooding.

“Something on the scale of Harvey, there’s nothing infrastructure can do,” Hagerman said. “Infrastructure wouldn’t help much accept get the water out as fast as possible.”

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