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TVA says Oroville Dam disaster highlights importance of Boone Dam project

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As one of the country's largest dams is compromised in California, residents in the Tri-Cities are asking what if a breach happens here.

Close to 200,000 Californians are evacuating because of the problem, and crews are racing to fix the breach before it gets worse. Water levels in Lake Oroville have dropped enough to stop the water from lapping over an eroded emergency spillway, easing some of the panic.

News five talked to Tennessee Valley Authority's spokesman today and he says the disaster in California drives home the importance of the Boone Dam repair project in Sullivan County. It's the kind of tragedy that the mammoth project is meant to prevent.

"It highlights the need for a very comprehensive dam safety program," said Jim Hopson, TVA spokesperson. "Which of course is how we found the seepage at the earth's embankment there at Boone."

Back in 2014, the TVA discovered a sinkhole, creating seepage near the dam. The lake level was lowered and ever since, kept about 10 feet below winter pool levels. Then a five-to-seven year long, $300 million, plan to secure the dam, with 24/7 monitoring.

The risk of a breach includes the potential for loss of life and destruction in the path below, which includes Kingsport and Hawkins County. It's a scenario that local emergency officials say they prepare for.

"We have plans in place of what is the most affected areas, and how would you get the evacuation order, how much time based on what type of devastation there is to it," said Jim Bean, Sullivan County Emergency Management Director.

Some who live on Boone Lake have opposed aspects of the project, particularly people who lost access and recreation, but the TVA remains firm on its plan and its importance.

"The reservoir itself creates economic impact on the local community," said Hopson. "The amount of money that we're spending there it's important to recognize that we're investing in the Tri-Cities, and that's the right thing to do."

Right now the TVA is moving into its second phase of dam repairs involving mobility grouting. They will also be constructing a non-erodible wall as part of the dam re-enforcement.

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