Lake Life: Smith Mountain Dam

Published: Jul. 17, 2019 at 11:17 AM EDT
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Activities on the lake are a huge draw for so many visitors, and of course, for the people who live there. But the lake was created for another purpose.

It’s a power source.

The Smith Mountain Dam was built by Appalachian Power. Construction began back in 1960 for hydroelectricity.

“It’s a pump storage project meaning that the water in Smith Mountain Lake is released through the dam to generate power, and then at times of low demand we pump that water back up through Smith Mountain Lake for reuse. So in that sense it acts like a battery,” said Neil Holthouser, Plant Environmental Coordinator.

Which is important for people who use the lake to boat because it affects water levels at their boat docks.

A shoreline management plan was created in 2000 and put to use by 2003 to ensure people are doing their part while using the water.

“…Including the responsibility to manage things like water quality, debris, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and of course shoreline management,” Holthouser said.

But for people who live at the lake, there’s more to be aware of.

“They are buying property adjacent to a federally licensed hydroelectric project, and that hydroelectric project for Smith Mountain Lake starts not at the water line, but at the 800 ft. elevation contour. So like a ring around a bathtub at 800 ft. above sea level, that’s the beginning of our hydroelectric project,” he said.

He says most visitors don’t know that the hydroelectric plant is here, or about the shoreline management plan. AEP is working to educate residents, business owners, and the general public.

“And so part of my job in shoreline management is to make sure property owners adjacent to the lake understand that they’re operating within a federally licensed hydroelectric project and there are certain rules and standards that govern development around the shoreline around the lake to ensure the environment is protected, the scenic beauty is protected, and to ensure fairness among neighbors and property owners.”

Appalachian Power wants people to remember them, and call with any questions. Holthouser says they work with people to make sure the lake is staying healthy and clean, while providing a service for the community.