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Dangerous Areas Surrounding Dams

Knowing and avoiding the dangers surrounding dams, locks, and powerhouses

If you like fishing or enjoy swimming and boating on TVA-managed reservoirs, you need to be aware of the possible hazards surrounding dams.

A large amount of water can be discharged through a dam without warning at any time. For example, when the demand for electricity is high, the turbines that generate electricity at a dam may start automatically, resulting in a significant increase in the flow of water within only a matter of seconds. Similarly, river operations for flood control can create rapidly rising water in otherwise shallow riverbeds, especially below tributary dams, which are usually located in steep terrain.

The cold water released through tributary dams even during the summer may also be a hazard. Cold water can result in shock and hypothermia, and slippery rocks and hidden holes can cause an unexpected fall.

Even if you’re an experienced boater, angler, or swimmer, it pays to know the signs of rising water and the rules you should follow to ensure your safety.

Staying clear of potential dangers

Point to the red circles on the picture below to identify the dangerous areas around dams, locks, and powerhouses.

top left section of photo of dam top right section of photo of dam
bottom section of photo of dam top right section of photo of dam
hotspot 1 hotspot 2 hotspot 4 hotspot 3 hotspot 5 hotspot 5 hotspot 7 hotspot 6 hotspot 8

Warning Systems at Dams

TVA has installed horns, strobe lights, warning signs, and electronic spillway signs with strobe lights and horns at several Valley dams to warn the public of impending changes in water conditions, such as swirling water, strong surface and underwater currents, rapidly rising water, and sudden water surges. These changes can occur when TVA starts turbines that generate electricity at the dams, raises or lowers the water level in a lock, or releases water through a spillway.

In addition, danger buoys upstream of some dams identify hazardous areas ahead. Access to these areas is restricted at all times.

To ensure your safety, please obey these warning devices! The closer you get to a dam, lock, or powerhouse, the more hazardous it can be. Getting too close to these structures isn’t worth the gamble.

When will horns be activated?

Horns are sounded before water is released from the turbines at powerhouses or through spillways. When you hear these horns, leave the areas upstream and downstream of the dam immediately.

When will strobe lights be activated?

Strobe lights are activated before TVA starts the turbines that generate electricity at a dam’s powerhouse or releases water through spillways. When you see these strobe lights flash, leave the areas upstream and downstream of the dam immediately.

Warning Signs

Signs direct visitors to stay clear of a hazardous area and warn of rapidly rising water and sudden spillway and turbine water surges. Always obey all warning signs.

When will the electronic spillway strobes lights and horns be activated?

Electronic spillway strobe lights and horns are activated before TVA starts the turbines that generate electricity at dams or releases water through spillways. When you see these strobe lights flash and the horns sound, leave the areas upstream and downstream of the dam immediately.

During high-flow periods, the spillway at dams may be used to regulate upstream reservoirs. When water is being released through the spillways, the water below dams can be extremely turbulent and hazardous. Under certain flow conditions, boats can be drawn upstream toward the dam where water is plunging through a spillway.

Never anchor your boat when fishing below a dam; leave your boat motor running even if drift fishing.

Remember, release schedules can change without notice at any dam, so always pay close attention and obey these warning devices.

The table below lists the types of warning devices installed at various dams throughout the Tennessee Valley.

 
Horns
Strobe Lights
Warning Signs
Electronic Spillway Signs with Strobe Lights and Horns
Apalachia X X X  
Blue Ridge X X X  
Boone     X  
Chatuge     X  
Chickamauga X X X X
Cherokee X X X  
Douglas X X X  
Fontana     X  
Fort Loudoun X X X X
Fort Patrick Henry X X X  
Great Falls x X X  
Guntersville X X X X
Hiwassee     X  
Kentucky X X X X
Melton Hill X X X  
Nickajack X X X X
Norris X X X  
Nottely     X  
Ocoee 1 X X X  
Ocoee 2     X  
Ocoee 3 X X X  
Ocoee Whitewater Center X X X  
Pickwick X X X X
South Holston X X X  
Tellico     X  
Tims Ford X X X  
Watauga X X X  
Watts Bar X X X X
Wheeler X X X  
Wilbur X X X  
Wilson X X X X

 

           
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