Lake Chatuge is a 7,000-acre manmade impoundment of the Hiwassee River. The dam was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1942 and was originally built to store water to help reduce flood damage and aid navigation in the Tennessee River downstream. In 1954, a single hydropower generating unit was placed into operation at Chatuge Dam, adding electricity production to its list of operational purposes. Still today, releases from Chatuge continue to provide flood control and help maintain favorable navigation conditions in the Tennessee River downstream.
Another important use of Lake Chatuge is drinking water supply. The City of Hiawassee, GA withdraws raw water from the lake and provides treated drinking water to residences and businesses in Hiawassee and along the main highway corridor (US 76) in Towns County.
The scenic beauty of Lake Chatuge is nearly unsurpassed in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, drawing tourists and seasonal residents from all over the country. This influx of people contributes positively to the economies of Towns and Clay counties. Recreation includes boating, swimming, fishing, and a wide variety of other water sports. Along the shoreline people enjoy walking, hiking, and mountain biking.
A watershed is an area of land that drains to a common point. The roughly 70 square-mile watershed that drains to Lake Chatuge contains forests, farmland, and livestock operations, as well as roads, homes, businesses, and other developed areas. Runoff from all the activities that happen on the landscape can carry pollutants into the lake. The Lake Chatuge watershed and surrounding area experienced explosive growth in the 1990s. During that time, the ecological health rating that TVA routinely assigns to its reservoirs also dropped more than 25 points from Good to Poor.
In 2001, HRWC received an appropriation from the Georgia legislature of $216,000 to determine the causes of lower ecological health ratings in the watersheds of Chatuge and Nottely Reservoirs and to develop an action plan for improving water quality conditions. The Lake Chatuge Watershed Action Plan, published in early 2007, is the result of an intensive study of Lake Chatuge completed over a 5-year period by HRWC and TVA. The study shows that an excess of nutrients (nitrogen & phosphorus) is a leading cause of low ecological health ratings. This result was expected due to elevated concentrations of algae in the lake; however, the study provided a much larger volume of data and the ability to determine which sources were contributing most to the problem. Read more…
Since 2007, HRWC has been working with Towns County, the City of Hiawassee, many other partners and private landowners to protect and improve the water quality and health of Lake Chatuge. In 2015, HRWC completed a 3-year grant with a total project cost of $186,000 for implementing measures to reduce nutrients and other pollutants in the upper half of the Lake Chatuge watershed in Towns County. Leaking and failing septic systems were repaired and stormwater management systems designed for developed areas around the lake. Riparian areas were planted with native trees and shrubs and agricultural best management practices installed on farms and livestock operations. All in all, more than 800 pounds per year of phosphorus and 1,400 lbs/yr of nitrogen were removed from Lake Chatuge. Sediment loading was also reduced by 173 tons/yr. The grant project, funded largely by the Georgia Section 319(h) Nonpoint Source Pollution Program, accomplished an 8% reduction in phosphorus loading over the estimated 2007 levels.
In 2016 new nutrient reduction technology, funded by Towns County’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), will be installed at the City of Hiawassee wastewater treatment plant, eliminating another 25-27% of phosphorus that was being discharged to Lake Chatuge at the time of plan publication.
Reducing nutrients in the Lake Chatuge watershed, keeping the lake free of major algae blooms, and improving the ecological health remains a high priority for HRWC. However, the lake is not “polluted” in terms of human uses. Lake Chatuge is safe for swimming and other water-based recreation activities, fishing, irrigation and withdrawal for the purpose of providing treated drinking water.