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Why the Lake Levels Change

The Smith Mountain Project is a pumped storage system, where Smith Mountain Lake serves as the upper reservoir and Leesville Lake as the lower reservoir. Water stored in Smith Mountain Lake passes through turbine-generators at Smith Mountain Dam to produce electricity. The water is then discharged into Leesville Lake where it is retained until it is either pumped back into Smith Mountain Lake for re-use or discharged downstream through turbine-generators at Leesville Dam to produce electricity.

The normal full pond elevation at Smith Mountain Lake is 795 feet, and the typical operation range is between 793 and 795 feet. Under low in-flow conditions, the surface elevation at Smith Mountain Lake may fall below 793 feet. The operating range for Leesville is between 600 and 613 feet in elevation. These levels reflect the connection between the two lakes, where a 1-foot change in elevation at Smith Mountain Lake corresponds to approximately 6.5 feet of change in elevation at Leesville Lake. Refer to the graphic below or read lake level FAQs to learn more about the reservoirs.

Smith Mountain
--- FT
Full pond: 795.0 ft.
--- FT
Full pond: 613.0 ft.
--.-° F

Smith Mountain Lake

794.0 FT Full Pond 795 ft

Leesville Lake

606.5 FT Full Pond 613 ft

Throughout the day, water is released from Smith Mountain Lake into Leesville Lake to generate power. This exchange causes Smith Mountain water levels to lower as Leesville lake increases. The return cycle usually occurs at night.

Fast Facts about Smith Mountain Lake

The lake is bounded on the north shores by Bedford County and Smith Mountain Lake State Park, where campsites and cabins are available as well as boat rentals. The more than 1,500 acre park offers hiking trails, picnic areas and ranger programs, such as guided night hikes and canoe trips.

  • Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest body of fresh water in Virginia.
  • Combined, Smith Mountain and Leesville Lakes are almost 60 miles in length and include 600 miles of shoreline.
  • Smith Mountain Lake has several public marinas, including Bridgewater, Parkway, Parkway 2, Mitchell's Point, and Smith Mountain Dock & Lodge.
  • The community of Smith Mountain Lake has grown to over 22,000 in large part to vacationers who’ve decided to relocate permanently.

Common questions about lake levels

The Smith Mountain Lake level can fluctuate up to two feet before Leesville Lake becomes full. In other words, a two-foot decrease in Smith Mountain (from 795 to 793 feet) results in Leesville Lake increasing 13 feet (from 600 to 613 feet). Once Leesville Lake is full, power can’t be produced until some portion of the water is pumped back to Smith Mountain Lake.

Two Foot Power Pool

Smith Mountain Lake
(Full Pond)
795 ft
Leesville Lake
600 ft

Smith Mountain Lake
793 ft*
Leesville Lake
(Full Pond)
613 ft

*Under low in-flow conditions, the elevation at Smith Mountain can fall below 793 feet.

See current lake levels

There is no set schedule for operation. Typically, electricity is generated, releasing water into Leesville Lake, when demand is high. Water from Leesville Lake is typically pumped back to Smith Mountain Lake when the demand for electricity is low. Operation can change hourly depending on demand.

Yes. Annual minimum and maximum reservoir elevations, as well as the dates they occurred, are available on going back to 1966.

Heavy rainfall in the Roanoke River watershed can increase water levels throughout the area. In order to prevent additional flooding downstream, Smith Mountain Lake can exceed “full pond” of 795 feet.