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Hurricane rains and peak power demands made for an interesting July, to say the least. As Acting Manager of TVA’s River Forecast Center, John Hoover certainly had his hands full. First, the Atlantic hurricane season kicked off much earlier than usual: rains from Tropical Storm Cindy fell across the Valley early in the month, followed by the remnants of Hurricane Dennis in mid-July. “That storm system was persistent,” says Hoover. “It kept generating rainfall in our region for the better part of a week.”
As it turns out, this extra precipitation was pretty well-timed. When thermometer readings inched steadily upward a couple of weeks later, TVA managers were able to move water through the reservoir system while generating much-needed hydropower. “It really helped that we had an accurate forecast upon which to base our decisions,” explains Hoover. “This heat gradually crept into the Valley from the west and we were able to plan our hydro scheduling accordingly. We knew the hot days were coming and that allowed us to efficiently allocate our resources.”
Sizzling summer temperatures resulted in the highest demand for electricity ever recorded in TVA’s seven-state service area. The previous record was smashed by more than 1,500 megawatts on July 25 — and then this brand-new milestone was exceeded the very next day. The TVA system met a demand of 31,935 megawatts (without a single sustained interruption to its customers) at 4 p.m. CDT on July 26, when the average temperature across the Tennessee Valley region reached 95 degrees.
Once again, the river system proved its worth in meeting this record demand. This time of year, many people naturally appreciate the Tennessee River for the recreational benefits it provides. But, as Hoover notes, the reservoir system plays a key role in keeping the lights on — and the air conditioners running — all across the Tennessee Valley: “Because it can be brought on-line almost immediately, hydropower is extremely well-suited to respond to peak power demands. Those are the situations when you need all of your generating assets working together. Hydro was a key part of our mix for those sweltering days in late July. Nearly all of TVA’s hydro generating units were operating and produced more than 4,700 megawatts to help meet the record power demand.”
Speaking of which, Hoover says the public should be aware of the fact that reservoir levels are where they are because of the guidelines set forth in TVA’s new reservoir operating policy — and because of the conditions unique to this particular year. “Despite the record-setting power demands in July, most of the tributary reservoir levels were near the upper limit of their expected seasonal range on August 1. Tributary levels will continue to gradually drop for the remainder of the summer as TVA meets the downstream flow commitments specified under our new operating policy.”
Because the new policy has changed the way TVA manages the system, it’s understandable that Valley citizens might be uncertain about how their reservoir is operated — and where they can reasonably expect reservoir levels to be this time of year. For answers, Hoover suggests that reservoir users visit TVA’s Reservoir Information Web site. “You can see the expected elevation throughout the year and track actual midnight elevations by choosing your reservoir from the pull-down menu and selecting ‘Operating Guide.’”
This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the work of TVA Watershed Teams. These teams perform a variety of functions — from building partnerships for water quality improvement to reviewing requests for use of TVA-managed land and providing land and water-based recreation opportunities. We begin with a look at how TVA Watershed Teams keep public lands and waters accessible by issuing permits for docks and other water-use facilities.
Land Use Representatives keep public lands and waters healthy and accessible
When some folks who live along TVA-managed reservoirs learn about what Karen Stewart does for a living, they jump to the conclusion that she’ll make it difficult for them to do what they want to do. But Stewart sees her job as a Land Use Representative on TVA’s Holston-Cherokee-Douglas Watershed Team in a different way.
“My job is to listen to customers and figure out how we can help them make the improvements they want to make in a way that is compatible with TVA’s responsibilities and the interests of other reservoir users,” says Stewart.
Stewart’s primary focus is on carrying out TVA’s responsibility under Section 26a of the TVA Act, which requires that TVA approval be obtained before constructing docks, boat ramps, commercial marinas, and other water-use facilities. Her job is to review Section 26a permit applications, using a process designed to ensure that any potential impacts to public benefits — such as navigation and flood damage reduction — are acceptable.
The first step, says Stewart, is to make sure that applicants are in possession of the proper land rights to apply for a permit in the first place. “You’d be surprised how many folks plan to do something in a location where they don’t have legal authority to use the land. No matter how well planned or environmentally sensitive a project is, we can’t approve it if the applicant doesn’t own or have land rights over the property in question. If someone is thinking about buying shoreline property, we can help them make sure the appropriate land rights exist.”
TVA sends out information packets that describe the kinds of information needed in order to process an application. They include a typical sketch of a water-use facility that residents can go by when preparing a basic drawing of their plans. “We work closely with potential applicants to make sure they have good information about our requirements before they formally apply and pay the $200 fee for the reviewing process,” explains Stewart.
Stewart says she’d like members of the public to know that she and her colleagues do everything they can to help them get approval, including providing assistance in completing the application paperwork: “We’re certainly not looking for ways to turn people down. Our goal is to put quality facilities on the reservoirs, in locations where permit requirements can be met. Many times, we’re able to suggest modifications that will result in applications being approved — when the original plans would have been turned down.”
Stewart says perhaps the most important part of her job is explaining TVA land-use policies to the public: “I have a great comfort level with the rules we have in place. They’re there for a reason — to balance the requirements of recreation, shoreline development, and resource conservation. When I’m faced with a tough decision, I try to look for solutions that take into account the many benefits provided by TVA-managed reservoirs — from navigation, flood damage reduction, and power supply to scenic beauty and reservoir health.”
Upper/East Tennessee readers take note: the address and phone number for the Morristown office of the Holston-Cherokee-Douglas Watershed Team has recently changed. The team’s new address is 3726 E. Morris Blvd., Morristown, TN 37813-1270. The new phone number is 423-585-2120. The team also has an office in Gray, Tennessee, located at 106 Tri-Cities Business Park Drive. The phone number is 423-467-3800.
So far this year, TVA Watershed Teams have been involved with or have served as sponsors of 18 different cleanup events all across the Valley. Approximately 5,900 volunteers have collected around 180 tons of trash and debris. Here are just a few examples:
Cherokee and Douglas have joined the list of reservoirs featuring Lake Watch programs — modeled on the familiar “Neighborhood Watch” concept, but designed specifically for waterfront communities.
This volunteer effort is based on a partnership between the public, TVA Police and Watershed Teams, and local law enforcement agencies. Citizens, businesses, boaters, and other reservoir users receive training in safe boating and crime prevention and are encouraged to report suspicious or dangerous activities.
The goals are to prevent boating and water-related accidents, reduce criminal activity such as theft, and support water quality by investigating dump sites and illegal discharges into reservoirs.
“An informed and observant public can enhance our law enforcement efforts,” says Tom Alford, Manager of TVA Police Security Projects and Risk Assessments. “Reporting violations and providing information for the detection and investigation of crimes and prevention of water-related accidents is a great way for citizens to be involved in providing better security for their communities.”
To learn more about Lake Watch programs, including how to start one on your reservoir, contact your local TVA Watershed Team. To participate in an effort already under way, contact a member of the TVA Police at one of the phone numbers listed below.
TVA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are conducting a survey to identify trends related to recreational boating in the Tennessee Valley. The 20-question survey covers a broad range of topics — from where and how often you boat to how boating accidents and law enforcement efforts are affecting your boating experience.
The goal, according to TVA economist Ron Riberich, is to provide a better and safer environment for boaters. “TVA and the Corps will use the survey results to pinpoint locations that are experiencing the most boating pressure. This information will help us prioritize areas for funding so that resources — education, assistance, and enforcement activities — are allocated where they’re needed most.”
If you own a boat, please take a few minutes to complete the online survey. Your responses will be kept confidential. Surveys also have been mailed to a sample of registered boaters across the Valley.
TVA recently opened a new visitor center at the top of Norris Dam in East Tennessee. The facility offers visitors an opportunity to learn about hydropower operations and the integrated management of the Tennessee River system.
“We expect thousands of people to visit the center this summer,” says Doug Hulme, president of Bicentennial Volunteers, Inc. (BVI), a TVA retiree and service organization. “This is a great way to enhance TVA’s presence in Norris while providing information about what we do and who we are to people in the community and those passing through the Norris area.”
The visitor center is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. It’s staffed by local BVI volunteers.
It’s not something you really like to think about as you plunge into a river or reservoir to cool off on a hot summer day. Are there organisms in the water that could make you sick?
Well, yes. There’s always that possibility. No body of water can be completely free of disease-causing bacteria, but you can protect yourself and your family by being aware of the risk.
States in the Tennessee Valley set limits on acceptable levels of E. coli and/or fecal coliform bacteria in recreational waters. These bacteria show that the water has been contaminated by animal or human waste, which may cause illness.
High bacteria levels at recreational areas on TVA-managed reservoirs often come from waterfowl. Droppings from geese and ducks can foul both the beach and the water nearby — a good reason not to encourage these birds to hang around by feeding them. Other potential sources of bacteriological contamination include runoff from land grazed by farm animals, failing septic tanks, and malfunctioning wastewater collection systems.
Every summer, TVA tests about 250 of the most heavily used swimming sites for bacterial contamination. Ten samples are taken at each site within a 30-day period to establish an average for the indicator bacteria. Typically, swimming areas and popular canoe sites are monitored every year, while boat ramps and less-used canoe sites are monitored every other year.
That adds up to a lot of samples, but it’s the right thing to do, according to Rebecca Hallman, a member of TVA’s Aquatic Monitoring and Management Team. “Recreation is an important objective in operating TVA’s integrated river system. TVA operates over 100 public recreation areas throughout the Valley, including boat launching ramps and campgrounds and day-use areas with swimming beaches. So monitoring the bacteriological quality of the water is good stewardship.”
If the bacteria level at a TVA-operated recreation area exceeds state standards, TVA will post a warning sign, investigate the cause, and take appropriate action to remedy the problem, says Hallman. At non-TVA sites, TVA will notify the owner/operator of the possible health risk. Monitoring results are shared with the states and used by TVA’s Watershed Teams in their efforts to protect and improve water quality.
Hallman offers this advice to reduce your chances of becoming ill from recreational contact with bacteria-contaminated water. “Bacteria levels usually go up after it rains due to runoff, so it’s a good idea to wait 48 hours after a rainstorm before swimming in reservoirs and streams. Also, look around before you swim. If you see feathers or droppings from geese, cloudy water, or other signs of a water quality problem, find another place to swim.”
Swimming advisories for Valley reservoirs are available from TVA’s Reservoir Ratings web page. Just choose the name of your reservoir in the pull-down menu under “TVA Reservoir Monitoring Results.” For more detailed information, or for information about advisories at other locations, check your state’s environmental web site or contact your local health department.
TVA scientists have recently confirmed the presence of a freshwater diatom (a single-celled algal species) in the reaches of river below Watauga and South Holston Dams.
Its taxonomic name is Didymosphenia geminata, but it is commonly referred to as “Didymo.” No one’s exactly sure how it got here, but it could be that human activity or waterfowl was the culprit — unwittingly transferring it from one waterbody to another. However it happened, it’s not good news, according to TVA scientist Tyler Baker: “Any time a non-native species is introduced to an aquatic environment, there are likely to be implications. We will be watching closely to see how Didymo affects Valley waterways.”
Didymo thrives in cool, clear, nutrient-poor water, where it tends to form massive blooms that result in algal mats. Believed to be native to northern Europe, Canada, and other regions in the Northern Hemisphere, it appears to have recently exhibited a greater tolerance for different conditions, gradually expanding its geographic range. While it has been found in some streams in the Western U.S. — as well as in the White River in Arkansas — this is the first confirmed instance of the diatom occurring east of the Mississippi River.
Most often found on the bottom of streams and rivers, Didymo attaches itself by stalks to the gravelly bottom of the stream or riverbed — smothering rocks and submerged plants. “This is a concern for a number of reasons,” explains Baker. “It reduces the area of clean substrate upon which fish nest and lay eggs. The resulting change in habitat could conceivably cause a shift in the types of aquatic insects present. It also tends to outcompete and limit the growth of native algal species, many of which are food sources for aquatic insects — which, in turn, are preyed upon by fish and other creatures.” Didymo also has caused problems by clogging water intakes in British Columbia streams, according to Baker.
Didymo seems to become easily established in lake-fed or regulated rivers (below dams), where stable water currents are likely to promote further growth by transferring plenty of nutrients to the mat surface. Cold tailwaters (the areas immediately downstream of dams) and streams are the most likely candidates, says Baker: “Apalachia is at the top of my list — given Didymo’s habitat preference. We’ll also be closely watching other reservoir tailwaters and streams throughout the Valley. It could easily find a home it likes at Norris, Blue Ridge, Nottely, and possibly Chatuge or Tims Ford tailwaters.”
The good news is that TVA monitoring efforts have not yet indicated any recent declines in fish or aquatic insect populations in the Watauga or South Holston tailwaters. “We conduct annual sampling in these tailwaters,” says Baker, “and we have quite a bit of historical data that should tell us a lot about densities and composition. That’ll be a big advantage when it comes to spotting any trends that might be attributable to the proliferation of Didymo.”
TVA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a groundbreaking ceremony on June 18 for the construction of a replacement lock at Chickamauga Dam.
The new lock will play an important role in the continued growth of the East Tennessee economy, says TVA Chairman Bill Baxter. “The Chickamauga Lock serves as a gateway for the transportation of many kinds of goods coming into and leaving the eastern part of the Tennessee Valley, and it also provides access for thousands of recreational boaters each year.
“Commercial traffic through the lock links the upper Tennessee Valley with terminals and industries on the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, and Arkansas rivers, the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes, so building a new lock will benefit the economy of other regions as well.”
Work on road and utility relocations should begin this summer. Construction of a cofferdam for the new lock is scheduled to begin in 2008. (A cofferdam is a temporary, watertight enclosure that allows construction in an area normally under water.)
The existing lock has structural problems caused by concrete growth, resulting in the expansion and deterioration of massive amounts of concrete in the lock. TVA and the Corps of Engineers have conducted detailed studies of the condition of the lock and estimate that the existing lock will need to be replaced by 2012.
The new 110-foot by 600-foot lock will cut the average lockage time for a 15-barge commercial tow from 16 hours to about 2-1/2 hours.
The lock is owned by TVA and operated by the Corps of Engineers. Under an agreement between TVA and the Corps, the Corps has responsibility for funding, design, and construction of the new lock. The project completion date will depend on Congressional funding.
It was a task accomplished with military precision.
When the Tennessee National Guard’s 196th Field Artillery Brigade needed to move tons of vehicles and equipment to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, for summer field exercises, they turned to a convenient, secure, cost-effective method of transportation — namely, the Tennessee River system.
It was quite a sight that May morning, when the last vehicle was loaded onto one of 18 deck barges and the tow boat began maneuvering away from the mooring at TVA’s Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Facility in Chattanooga. The 1,200-mile river journey had just begun, but the work to make the massive move required many hours of careful coordination between the Guard, TVA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Canal Barge Company — the privately-owned marine transportation company in charge of the actual shipment.
Two Guardsmen traveled with the tow for security; the rest of the personnel traveled to Fort Chaffee by bus. Some of the vehicles and equipment transported included command and control vehicles, 2.5-ton personnel trucks, humvees, jeeps, first-aid vehicles, rocket launchers, and utility trucks. Vehicles were packed with personal gear, tents, radios, and other supplies. The loaded barges traveled on four river systems — the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Arkansas — to reach the final destination. In order to facilitate the process, the tow was given priority status for lockages; TVA also issued a temporary permit for the use of the landing at Raccoon Mountain. The Brigade conducted training exercises at Fort Chaffee until mid-June, at which time the river journey was repeated in reverse.
“As it turns out, this was the first such shipment of National Guard vehicles and equipment on the Tennessee River,” said Sergeant First Class Winfred Smith, “but I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.” As the individual in charge of overseeing the transfer, he has a great appreciation for the efficiency of this mode of transportation: “Shipping this same stuff by rail would have cost twice as much. Moving it over the roads in a convoy would have been problematic in terms of security. Taking into account everything from public safety to providing security for military equipment such as rocket launchers, this proved to be an excellent way to transport the material we needed for our training exercise.”
If you spot one in the water, no big deal. If you run across one on land, you’d be wise to back off. This is one turtle with an attitude.
The Common Snapping Turtle has earned a well-deserved reputation for aggression. The ill temper it seems to display when confronted on land is well-documented: it will attack at the slightest provocation, raising its body high off the ground and snapping with such force that it lunges forward.
Although the turtle’s ferocious nature might suggest that it is spoiling for a fight, this behavior is simply an excellent form of self-defense. In the water, the Snapper is quite shy, preferring to swim away if disturbed. But it feels threatened when encountered on land and will not hesitate to defend itself, striking repeatedly with amazing speed and force. Anyone with cause to be in proximity to this turtle would do well to recall the fact that one bite from a Common Snapping Turtle can easily snap a broom handle in two.
A lesson in turtle anatomy may help to explain this aggressive behavior. Most turtles are rightfully thought of as slow-moving, placid creatures that retreat into the protection of their shells if disturbed. For the Common Snapping Turtle, however, this is not an option: its body is disproportionately large in relation to its shell. In other words, it simply cannot fit! This vulnerability no doubt contributes to the Snapper’s tendency to confront an enemy on land, where it is more awkward, exposed, and unable to easily escape.
Geared toward students in the 4th through 8th grades, TVAkids.com provides information on the mission and work of TVA, the generation of electricity, the Tennessee River system, TVA’s dedication to a clean environment, and the history behind TVA.
Part of the site, a section called “Running the River,” explains how TVA operates the reservoir system to meet the needs of Valley citizens — and does so in terms young people can understand. There are kid-friendly features on hydroelectric power, recreation, flood damage reduction, water quality, and navigation.
A new feature is a list of links to sites that offer ideas for fun science and energy projects — a good resource for those already thinking about their school’s next science fair.
In addition to being a great source of information for students, the site has proven to be a valuable tool for teachers. It includes teaching guides, energy-education activities, and lesson plans. All learning activities have been field-tested in schools and coordinated with state departments of education.
These seven marinas are the latest marinas to be certified as part of TVA’s Clean Marina Initiative. They now can fly a Clean Marina flag in recognition of their efforts to preserve and protect water quality in the Tennessee River system.
TVA’s Clean Marina program helps marinas protect water quality by encouraging marina-sponsored boater education and reducing water pollution and erosion.
Currently, 48 marinas in the Tennessee Valley have achieved the high environmental standards required for Clean Marina certification. Click here for more information about the program.