Turning the Tides

It’s no secret that TVA is in the business of flood control; in fact, it’s been telling water where to go for over 80 years, saving the Tennessee Valley from inundation and millions of dollars in property damage year after year. But this year—and in recent years—it's saved millions of dollars in damages.

During the first week of December, the Valley experienced a five-day rainy spell—no major storm system, just slow, steady, constant rain. Nevertheless, TVA’s River Forecast Center was able to make decisions—where to store water, where to spill it down the river—that averted some serious property damage in Tennessee, saving:

  •  $6,000 in Lenoir City
  •  $73,000 in Shelbyville
  • $105,000 in Kingsport
  • $280,000 in Elizabethton
  • $1,400,000 in Copperhill
  • $6,300,000 in Chattanooga

In other words, a grand total of $8,164,000 worth of damage was averted.

That may seem like a lot, but consider the story of the storm of 2013. During January of that year, a mild-mannered forecast for 2 inches of rain turned into something much more major—in fact, a storm system that dumped the most rain the Valley had seen more than 60 years.

The River Forecast Center worked around the clock, calling in extra help to manage the water and keep away from Valley cities and out of its neighborhoods. They were able to spill water through the dams into the Tennessee River in a controlled manner, and to release 5.3 millions of water per second through hydroelectric generators to produce record-breaking levels of power: 3,300 megawatts, or enough to power 1.8 million homes!

River Ops were also able to store excess water in winter-readied reservoirs, tucking away:

  • 11 inches in Apalachia
  • 10 inches in Boone
  • 9 inches in Cherokee
  • 14 inches in Fontana
  • 13 inches in Hiwassee
  • 12 inches in Nottely
  • 8 inches in Tims Ford
  • 9 inches in Wilbur
  • 13 inches in Blue Ridge
  • 12 inches in Chatuge
  • 9 inches in Douglas
  • 10 inches in Ft. Patrick Henry
  • 8 inches in Norris
  • 8 inches in South Holston
  • 9 inches in Wautaga

The results were stellar; flood levels were reduced dramatically. Lenoir City was saved from 16 feet of inundation; Elizabethton from 6 feet; and Kingsport from 8 feet. But the most impressive rescue was Chattanooga, the Valley's most flood-prone city—it was saved from being sunk under 20 feet of water.

The net result of TVA River Operations efforts in 2013? $800,000,000 in damages averted.

The skillful balancing of storage and spillage of the excess water spared cities like Knoxville, Chattanooga and Elizabethton from serious structural damage while delivering high levels of hydropower that translated into lower power bills for Tennessee Valley residents. Win win—the TVA way.

Want to learn more? Read more about the 2013 flood event in The Flood that Never Was.