Fontana Dam Safety

Highway 28S
Fontana Dam, North Carolina

Inspection, Maintenance and Repair 

On Monday, July 9, 2018, visitors to Fontana Dam were treated to a rare and beautiful site: a “rooster tail,” which is a large surge of water through two small spill pipes below the dam, along with all associated rainbows. The occasion? TVA was opening and closing the dam’s four spillway gates in order to test them for mechanical integrity as a part of its ongoing dam safety program. 

The process was designed to gather data on the gates’ trunnions, according to Laura Groce, senior manager, Dam Safety Services. “This test allowed us to measure strains in the gate trunnions while the gates were being opened and closed. The data will be used to analyze the gate system,” she explains. Gate trunnions anchor the gate to the dam’s concrete and serve as the pivot point about which the gate rotates. All forces acting on the gate go through the trunnion into the concrete, making the trunnion a key component of the gate system.

Mike Morrison, senior program manager for TVA Dam Safety, agrees. “We had a successful test with good results at Fontana,” he says. “This type of testing is part of TVA's investment to make sure our dams are reliable and work well to deliver flood control, electric power, recreation and other services to the people in the Tennessee Valley.”

Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison and Travis Simpson of TVA’s Dam Safety team stand atop Fontana Dam after testing the dam’s four spillway gates for mechanical integrity. The testing is part of TVA’s ongoing dam safety program.

Emergency Contact Information for Residents near Fontana Dam 



Swain County Emergency Management

55 East Ridge Dr.
Bryson City, N.C. 28713

Director: David Breedlove
Non-emergency contact: Phone (828) 488-6021
After hours: (828) 488-2196

Graham County Emergency Management 

70 West Fort Hill Rd
Robbinsville, N.C. 28771

Director: Larry Hembree
Non-emergency contact: (828)479-7967
Fax: (828) 479-6599


Mile 61 on the Little Tennessee River

10 Miles from Tapoco, N.C.


Began 1942

Completed 1944

Main Components

Concrete Dam


Emergency Spillway (abandoned)

4 Spillway Gates

2 Spillway Tunnels

6 Sluices

Type of Dam

Concrete Gravity Dam

Maximum Flow Recorded: 129,000 cfs

Length: 2,365 feet

Maximum Height:  480 feet (highest U.S. dam east of the Mississippi)

Maximum water depth at summer pool:  432 feet

Typical Pool Elevation: 1243.0


Annual Flood Reduction: $25.8 million

Water Supply Benefit: $0.1 million

Recreation Benefit: $237.8 million

Hydroelectric Generation: $91 million