Was the Catawba River and Mountain Island Flooding Avoidable?

A week after the flood, residents along the Catawba River and Mountain Island Lake continue their dry-out and clean-up. By many meteorologists’ accounts, the area experienced a forecasted large rain even last Friday through Sunday (June 7-9) that ultimately, after the release of waters by Duke Energy on the southern end of Lake Norman, caused a sudden, rapid, and unprecedented surge of water south down the Catawba River. Coastal residents living along Mountain Island Lake and the Catawba River south of Mountain Island Lake experienced rises in water in excess of 10 feet over a few hour period. Some point to the above average rainfall as the cause of the flooding. Others suggest Duke Energy mismanaged the release of water from Lake Norman, including ineffectively releasing water from the lake prior to the storm.

In anticipation of large rain events, Duke will release water to the south through its series of lake and dams. The reason is simple. By lowering the lake levels prior to large storms, the lakes can support more rainfall and storm runoff, thus reducing the potential for flooding along the rivers and lakes. For example, in the week prior to the onslaught of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the water level of Lake Norman was lowered several feet below its flood stage, which is particularly important given the size of Lake Norman. Many believe more could have been done to lower the lake levels in light of the predicted rainfall.

Still others are concerned about the apparent lack of more timely notice to affected property owners. Most residents were initially advised to expect minor flooding. With what seemed to be each passing hour last Sunday, Duke continuously revised its forecast to increase the expected flood forecast. It wasn’t until flooding was occurring that Duke finally conceded the flooding could be catastrophic. At that point, it was too late for upwards of hundreds of residents.

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