Construction of Watts Bar Dam began in 1939. It was completed in January 1942, three weeks after Pearl Harbor, and provided urgently needed electricity for the war effort—including the Manhattan Project at nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratories.
Watts Bar Reservoir is on the Tennessee River in east Tennessee. It extends 72.4 miles northeast from the dam to Fort Loudoun Dam. The dam has five generating units with a net dependable capacity of 182 megawatts.
Watts Bar Dam, located about midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, is one of nine TVA dams on the Tennessee River. The reservoir is popular for boating, fishing, swimming, camping and other outdoor activities. A scenic overlook near the dam provides visitors with a panoramic view of the reservoir and surrounding countryside.
Before TVA created Watts Bar and other reservoirs above Chattanooga, the city had one of the most serious flooding problems in the nation. Now the river that often threatened the city contributes to its economy as a major artery for barge traffic—thanks in large part to large reservoirs like Watts Bar and adjacent Chickamauga.
Watts Bar: Facts + Figures
- Watts Bar Dam is 112 feet high and stretches 2,960 feet across the Tennessee River.
- Watts Bar Dam is a hydroelectric facility. It has five generating units with a summer net dependable capacity of 196 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a dam can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the dam itself.
- Watts Bar Reservoir has 722 miles of shoreline and over 39,090 acres of water surface.
- The reservoir has a flood-storage capacity of 379,000 acre-feet.
- To maintain the water depth required for navigation, the minimum winter elevation for Watts Bar Reservoir is 735 feet. The typical summer operating range is between 740 and 741 feet.
- In addition to forming a navigable 72-mile-long reservoir on the Tennessee River, Watts Bar also creates a slack-water channel for navigation more than 20 miles up the Clinch River and 12 miles up the Emory River.
- Watts Bar has one 60- by 360-foot lock that lifts and lowers barges as much as 70 feet to Chickamauga Reservoir. The lock handles more than a million tons of cargo a year.
- Find Watts Bar Dam on TN Hwy. 68 in Spring City, Tenn.
More Information on Watts Bar Reservoir
The Unified Development of the Tennessee River plan
stressed TVA was to provide flood control, navigation and electricity for the region. TVA’s dams are tangible evidence of its primary mission: improving life in the Tennessee Valley. We’re celebrating the plan with an in-depth look at 32 of the dams it comprises.
Watts Bar Getaway
In 1950, after construction on Watts Bar Dam was complete, an enterprising Michigander bought up the construction workers’ housing and launched a wildly successful resort. People came from all over the U.S. to spend time at what eventually became known as Pete Smith’s Watts Bar Resort. Pete himself once noted a good 80 percent of the car tags in the resort came from states above the Mason Dixon line, filled with northerners who'd come down to soak up the Tennessee sun and play on the lake. Read more about the erstwhile fun in the sun.