TVA hydroelectric dams on for 1st time in 3 years

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority is starting the new year with its 29 hydroelectric dams running around the clock for the first time in three years.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports TVA has more water stored in the reservoirs above Chattanooga than at the end of any year since it erected its network of dams in the 1930s and 1940s.

That comes even after 70 days of spilling water through the dams to bring down water levels.

There’s so much water that TVA can’t capture all the potential energy because it doesn’t have the equipment to do so.

“This type of situation is far more the exception than the rule,” said Chuck Bach, TVA’s manager for river scheduling. “We have looked at that, but it didn’t make sense.”

In the Tennessee River — following a year of above normal rainfall in Chattanooga — an extra 45 billion gallons of water is flowing through the city every day above the minimum flow requirement. That’s as much water every day as Atlanta uses from its main reservoir, Lake Lanier, in six months.

The additional water has slowed barge traffic on the river. Barge operations have to stop when the river flows above 90,000 cubic feet per second through the narrow Tennessee River Gorge because the current becomes too strong to navigate safely.

“We’ve got lots of water we’re trying to move through our system,” Bach said of the network of 49 dams for flood control in the region. “We try to bring our reservoirs down to their lowest levels … by the first of January, but that has been a challenge this year because of all of the extra rain we have received.”

TVA is spilling water this week through all of its Tennessee River dams except its Wilson and Wheeler Dams, although the flow rate has been reduced since last week, allowing some barge operators to resume operations.

That “extra” water could be used in Georgia, according to leaders on one of the water councils created in Georgia to study that state’s water supply problems, which were aggravated by the drought in recent years.

“It’s a shame you can’t capture the excess water during these times of heavy rains and reserve it for hard times next August or whenever there may next be a shortage of water,” said John Bennett, city manager in Rome, Ga., and chairman of the 25-county Coosa/Northwest Georgia Water Planning Council.

Bennett predicted that “eventually there will be some additional reservoirs built in North Georgia.”

Tennessee legislators have balked at sharing water with Georgia.

State Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said there is a reason the river carries the name “Tennessee” and has said giving away its water is “not negotiable.”

But Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn, vice chairman of the Northwest Georgia Water Council, said runoff from at least a half dozen Georgia counties flows into the Tennessee River and it needs to be considered in dealing with the South’s water problems.

“When you hear people say to Georgia, ‘Leave our water alone,’ they need to remember that Georgia already supplies much of what is in that river to start with,” Ashburn said.

TVA is the nation’s largest public utility serving nearly 9 million customers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.


Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press,