Environmental Protection and Stewardship
Through its management of the Tennessee River system, TVA works to balance the benefits of navigation, flood control, power production, water supply, water quality, recreation and land use. But to the region’s diverse collection of wildlife — about 200 species of fish, 100 species of freshwater mussels, 60 species of mammals, 200 species of breeding birds, 140 species of reptiles and 60 species of amphibians — it’s water quality that matters most.
As a responsible steward of the Tennessee River’s 108,800-square-kilometer (42,000-square-mile) watershed, TVA helps keep the region’s water clean and life-sustaining. It accomplishes this important objective through its policies and practices, and especially through the partnerships it builds with community groups and other stakeholders. So when Congress and the President challenged all Americans to mark the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act by setting a good example of environmental stewardship, TVA and its multidisciplinary Watershed Teams were already well along in meeting this standard.
Throughout the TVA region, TVA’s Watershed Teams work in partnership at the grass-roots level to protect and improve water quality by providing technical expertise to help reduce or eliminate nonpoint sources of pollution, such as runoff from farms, new construction, and storm-water drains. In 2002 and 2003 the teams maintained involvement in approximately 50 water-quality-improvement initiatives across the TVA region that identified water quality issues, developed local partnerships to address these problems, and jointly implemented action plans.
Watershed Teams also partner with dozens of volunteer organizations and resource agencies to conduct trash cleanups along reservoir shorelines and stream banks. During the past two years, these collaborative efforts helped to organize 144 events involving 15,314 volunteers, who collected 1,201 metric tons (1,324 tons) of litter along the region’s waterways.
Since preventing all forms of pollution from entering the reservoir system is the best way to keep the water clean, TVA’s Watershed Teams work with other federal, state and local agencies to heighten public awareness of the harm caused by the introduction of garbage, untreated sewage, petroleum and other pollutants into the waterways of the Tennessee Valley region. Events held in conjunction with the TVA-led Tennessee Valley Clean Marina Initiative and the National Clean Boating Campaign have been particularly successful at reaching marina owners and recreational boaters. The Clean Marina Initiative, a voluntary regional program developed by TVA and its watershed partners, promotes environmentally responsible marina and boating practices that focus on sewage and fuel management; solid waste and petroleum recycling and disposal; vessel operation, maintenance, and repair; marina siting, design, and maintenance; storm-water management and erosion control; and boater education.
By the end of 2003, 25 marinas in the seven-state TVA region had qualified to fly Clean Marina flags as a result of their efforts to minimize boating-related pollution. Another 22 or more marinas in the region are expected to receive the certification in 2004. TVA Watershed Teams provide support and educational resources to assist marina operators working toward certification. For more information, see Clean Marinas and Clean Boating, or contact your local TVA Watershed Team office.
For TVA, responsible river stewardship extends beyond the water to the shoreline, where erosion can adversely affect water quality and threaten wildlife and fisheries habitat. Since landscaping with native plants is one of the best ways to stabilize shorelines and keep harmful pollutants from reaching the reservoir, TVA Watershed Teams assist property owners who want to create an environmentally friendly waterfront featuring indigenous grasses, shrubs, and trees.
To facilitate this effort, in 2003 TVA developed 11 fact sheets on the restoration of riparian zones — the biologically distinctive areas at the water’s edge. Each fact sheet covers a separate topic, such as the benefits of using native vegetation; designing a shoreline landscape; understanding and controlling erosion; and selecting, planting, and maintaining native plants. The information is specifically tailored to the TVA region and includes photographs and illustrations of sample landscape plans. Go to riparian restoration fact sheets. They are also available in print form at local TVA Watershed Team offices.
A resource to help residents select shoreline plants is TVA’s new online guide, the Native Plant Selector. Using the guide, property owners can compare various regional native plant species and find out which ones address specific stream-bank or shoreline conditions. Included in the database are photographs of the plants and details on their height and light requirements, bloom time, moisture and soil needs, wildlife value and other characteristics. Stakeholders have consistently rated shoreline conditions, especially erosion problems, as a priority area needing improvement. Informing property owners about the benefits of native landscaping is only one way TVA has been working to stabilize shorelines throughout the river system.
Critically impaired shoreline is defined as shoreline areas where erosion threatens the stability and integrity of significant archaeological sites, degrades wildlife and fisheries habitat, contributes to reservoir sedimentation or adversely affects water quality and shoreline aesthetics. TVA carries out stabilization and revegetation treatments to restore and enhance the degraded shoreline. In 2002–2003, 26.7 kilometers (16.6 miles) of critically impaired shoreline was stabilized, preventing 24,500 metric tons (27,000 tons) of soil from eroding and entering the reservoir system. This includes 33 eroding archaeological sites, which were identified and stabilized along 6,187 meters (20,300 feet) of shoreline on the main stem of the Tennessee River.
For example, the Upper Holston Watershed Team worked with several stakeholders to stabilize six critically eroding shoreline sites on South Holston, Boone, and Fort Patrick Henry reservoirs in Virginia and Tennessee. The cooperative work involved stabilizing about 1,219 meters (4,000 feet) of shoreline banks by establishing gentle slopes, laying down and securing a filter fabric that allows water movement without soil loss, installing rock riprap and planting native trees and shrubs. Partners in this effort included the Washington County (Va.) Park Authority and Sheriff’s Office, the Sullivan County (Tenn.) Highway Department and Parks Commission, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Department of Corrections and TVA.
A true test of whether environmental efforts are working is the life-sustaining capacity of reservoir water. Maintaining minimum flows and adequate dissolved oxygen levels in the water are key elements that affect aquatic life. Over the years, TVA has been successful in using these methods to increase the diversity of aquatic species throughout the reservoir system. Read more here. However, in 2003, a problem with the aeration system configuration at Nottely Dam, near Blairsville, Ga., resulted in decreased dissolved oxygen levels in the tailwater (the water below the dam) during most of August and September, and as a result TVA failed to meet its dissolved oxygen target.
On a positive note, though, radio tracking and monitoring indicates that three years after the reintroduction of lake sturgeon into the French Broad River below Douglas Dam, the fish are thriving. Sampling shows that the sturgeon have doubled in size and appear to be in excellent condition. They are spreading throughout the upper Tennessee River system, with recaptures reported from the Holston and Little Pigeon rivers as well as the French Broad, and from Fort Loudoun, Watts Bar, Melton Hill and Chickamauga reservoirs.
TVA’s commitment to environmental protection extends to one of the TVA region’s most valuable natural resources, public land. In 2002, TVA achieved significant progress in two areas of land planning that will help spur environmentally sensitive economic development while also preserving green spaces.
First, the Pickwick Reservoir Land Management Plan, which covers portions of Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, was finalized after more than 18 months of collaborative effort. TVA invited the general public, state and federal officials, and various special interest groups to participate in the land planning process. By combining this public input with resource data and their own professional knowledge about the reservoir, TVA specialists established allocations for various parcels of TVA-managed reservoir lands. These allocations are the foundation of a land management plan that will support TVA goals, balance competing demands, respond to the needs of stakeholders, and meet TVA’s responsibility to protect natural resources.
Second, since TVA has a total of 27,400 kilometers (17,000 miles) of transmission lines stretching across rural and urban landscapes throughout the TVA region, the effective management of transmission line rights-of-way (ROWs) and easements is another land management priority. To enhance wildlife habitat and minimize maintenance, TVA partners with private landowners, conservation organizations, and hunting clubs in planting low-growing native vegetation along ROWs in environmentally sensitive areas.
Examples of these partnerships include:
- A program that reimburses property owners up to a total of $150 for converting brush acres to native grass.
- The Alabama Wild Power Project, which makes property owners who have transmission lines crossing their land eligible to receive funds for brush removal and plantings in the ROW that attract, shelter, and feed wildlife.
- The ROW Landowner Partnership Project with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. This project involves eliminating invasive exotic plants and reestablishing native grasses and other vegetation on lands at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a Department of Energy site in Tennessee. The benefits include reducing the cost of vegetation control, creating a healthier wildlife habitat, making the area look more appealing, and reducing the frequency of TVA vegetation control visits.
In addition to tracking the ROW acres managed through partnership efforts, TVA continues to pursue opportunities to better inform the public about partnership opportunities, including development of a website to address issues of concern to property owners. The site will include TVA’s vegetation maintenance schedule, frequently asked questions regarding acceptable practices in ROW areas and local TVA contacts with whom property owners can discuss individual concerns to more effectively manage ROW acreage.
The height of vegetation is of particular concern in ROWs because when power lines are overloaded they begin to sag. If the vegetation makes contact with the lines, it can cause them to short out, a factor that contributed to the Northeast blackout in 2003. To help increase awareness of this concern among ROW property owners, TVA developed two brochures identifying trees, shrubs and grasses that are ideally suited to ROW landscaping. The brochures are:
Also see the Native Plant Selector.