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Melton Hill dam

A Dam of Firsts

Built in the relative peacetime of the early 1960s, Melton Hill Dam piled up an impressive list of firsts, from navigation to appropriations to recreation.

Melton Hill—a latecomer in the grand TVA scheme—was a dam of firsts.

It was the first dam prepared for commercial navigation since the opening of the lock at Kentucky Dam 20 years prior. It was the first (and only) of TVA’s dams to feature a navigation lock on a tributary to the Tennessee River—in this case, the Clinch River. And it was the first dam built by TVA not to be entirely funded by congressional appropriations; rather, the costs associated with the installation of power production equipment were financed solely by revenues from power sales and/or proceeds from the sale of power bonds.

Navigating New Opportunities

No wartime project, this one—construction on the dam started in September of 1960 and was completed in May of 1963, during years of relative peace. Commercial operation of two 36,000 kW units would follow in 1964, right on time to help meet continued growth of demand on TVA’s system.

It was a true multipurpose dam, though a large part of Melton Hill’s charm was extending a navigable channel from the Tennessee 38 miles up the Clinch River through Oak Ridge to Clinton, Tenn., effectively making port towns out of both locations, and opening up new opportunities for industry.

“The lock was built for commercial navigation, and in times past it was used by Oak Ridge National Laboratories and by the Department of Energy, as well as by private industry,” explains Nicole Berger, navigation program supervisor for TVA. “Today, it’s largely used for TVA’s own purposes—such as moving over-dimensioned equipment to Melton Hill Dam and Bull Run Fossil plant—and for recreation, though we recently had a commercial barge come through for the first time in 10 years.  Without the addition of Melton Hill Lock, Federal Government operations at Oak Ridge would never have been able to move oversized cargo used for military and defense purposes."

Recreation Designations

The engineers who envisioned Melton Hill Dam took into account the features of the reservoir that would be created. The shoreline, they noted, would be wooded and rugged, beautiful to the eye. The lake—conveniently located near Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Clinton and Lenoir City and the junction of Interstates 40 and 75—would provide a convenient get-away for East Tennessee’s city dwellers. 

Planners even went so far as to reckon the economic benefits of Melton Hill would stem as much from the reservoir and shoreline as from the dam and lock. In other words, recreation would rule.

TVA was careful in its land planning to ensure that zoning accounted for ample recreational use—and indeed, land purchases were made specifically to secure shoreline areas conducive to the development of parks and lake access.

Those efforts have been repaid handsomely. The lake today is ringed by a network of public parks, boat ramps, fishing piers, playgrounds, picnic shelters, swimming areas, trails and marinas. And a recent study performed by TVA and the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture found that recreation on Melton Hill Reservoir is worth an estimated $200 million annually to the local economy.

Sustainable Play

One recreation asset worth singling out is a modern-day first: Melton Hill Sustainable Recreation Area, which lies on the dam reservation itself. There, TVA has created a recreation area that is demonstrating how renewable energy, energy-efficiency, water conservation measures and the by-products of coal combustion can be integrated in a clean, net-zero-energy campground.

The campground is powered by wind and solar energy, and energy requirements are reduced where possible with efficiency measures, such as solar-powered LED, motion-activated lighting. Two solar-powered water heaters take the place of standard units. Water conservation techniques include the installation of low-flow showers, dual-flush toilet fixtures and waterless and low-flow urinals.

Riparian buffers are maintained to allow filtering of pollutants from rainwater runoff before it enters the lake, and native grass plantings and pervious pavers assist with runoff filtration. Shingles on all TVA structures are fit with roofing materials containing coal combustion byproducts. Coal byproducts are also used in pathways, landscaping and stone veneer.

And those are just a few of its lean-and-green features. Find out more about the environmentally beneficial technologies in use throughout the Melton Hill Sustainable Recreation Area on our top-to-bottom fact sheet.