TVA’s River Forecasting Center
Forget the Weather Channel. TVA’s River Forecasting Center—located in Knoxville, Tenn.—is staffed around the clock, 365 days a year, monitoring the weather with one primary goal in mind: to keep you safe from a flood.
But for these employees, there’s more. River schedulers continually monitor not only weather conditions but water quality data, as well as water availability and demand—all with the goal of routing water through the river system to provide the most public value given changing weather conditions and water demands.
River Forecasting Center duties include:
- Issuing forecasts of reservoir levels and water releases at TVA dams
- Setting hourly generation schedules for TVA hydroelectric projects, eight projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Cumberland River system and four reservoirs that make up Alcoa Power’s Tapoco project
- Providing special notifications to the public during flood events
- Evaluating cooling-water needs for TVA coal and nuclear plants
- Monitoring water quality conditions below TVA dams so that aeration equipment can be turned on when needed to maintain adequate dissolved-oxygen concentrations
- Serving as the main point of contact in the event of a river system emergency
It’s a juggling act—one unique to TVA—but the employees of the River Forecasting Center are pros at getting water where it needs to go, and keeping it away from our region’s cities and towns. They are constantly adjusting the water levels in winter and summer, using computer models, more than 300 rain gauges and state-of-the-art radar technology to stay ahead of the swell.
TVA river schedulers have a lot of autonomy and flexibility to keep water on the move—and they need it. This is important because TVA reserves less storage space in its reservoirs than do most other federal dam owners. Most TVA tributary reservoirs can only store an additional inch of runoff at summer pool levels, compared with four or five inches of runoff in many federal reservoirs. This enhances recreational use, but it gives TVA river schedulers less time to refine their forecasts and decide on a release rate from affected dams.
Around-the-clock staffing also helps TVA deal with the challenge presented by uncertainty about the timing or volume of rain and runoff that will be received in the future. In other regions of the United States where snowmelt is the primary source of runoff, precise measurements can be made of the depth and density of the snow pack. This gives water managers weeks or even months to prepare for the likely runoff during the spring thaw. In the TVA region, however, most reservoir scheduling for flood damage reduction must be based on short-term weather forecasts and in reaction to rainfall as it occurs.