Pipestem Dam at a record low in May

The dry year has set records for low water elevations at a local reservoir.

pipestem reservoir n pelicans
A flock of American white pelicans swim and feed Monday, June 28, 2021, on the low-level Pipestem Reservoir. The elevation was below 1443 feet above sea level, up a few feet from the May 6 record low. John M. Steiner / The Sun

The water level at the Pipestem Dam hit an all-time low last month, according to James Dixon, dam manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On May 6, the lake level was at 1,439.4 feet above sea level, the lowest recording since the reservoir filled after construction in 1973.

In 2010, Pipestem Reservoir peaked at an elevation of 1,479.3 feet above sea level which was considered a 10-year high at that time.

"With the low water, we've been seeing parts of the dam we haven't seen in a while," Dixon said. "We aren't seeing any problems."

Since its low point in early May, the level of the reservoir has gone up about 4 feet as of June 25 from rains in the region.


"We vary about an inch or so up or down every day now," Dixon said. "We're are pretty much steady."

Releases from Pipestem Dam are continuing at about 3 cubic feet per second in order to keep some flow in the James River to limit stagnation there. Those releases are coming from the low gate at the bottom of the Pipestem Dam reservoir and help improve water quality of the reservoir.

The Jamestown Reservoir is at 1,429.34 feet above sea level as of June 25, Dixon said. Releases through a bypass valve at the Jamestown Dam are calculated at about 12.7 cfs. This creates combined releases flowing down the James River of about 16 cfs.

During high water events such as the spring of 2010, combined releases from the two dams have been as much as 850 cfs.

"Jamestown Dam is not nearly as historically low as the Pipestem," Dixon said.

The average daily inflow has been below zero, meaning less water is going into the Jamestown Reservoir than out, for all but five days in June, according to information on the Bureau of Reclamation website.

Dixon said that while water levels are low, utilization of the reservoirs by the public has been good this year.

"I think the fishing has been 'killer' this year," he said. "I know that because I see folks out fishing every day at the same spots. I think the northern fishing has been doing well."

Related Topics: RECREATION
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