TVA's series of dams and reservoirs are designed to hold back floodwater to protect 15 communities that are prone to flooding:
- Kingsport, Tenn.
- Elizabethton, Tenn.
- Clinton, Tenn.
- Knoxville, Tenn.
- Lenoir City, Tenn.
- McCaysville, Ga./Copperhill, Tenn.
- Chattanooga, Tenn.
- South Pittsburg, Tenn.
- Huntsville, Ala.
- Decatur, Ala.
- Florence, Ala.
- Shelbyville, Tenn.
- Fayetteville, Tenn.
- Savannah, Tenn.
- Paducah, Ky.
Flood storage and the potential for flooding vary throughout the year. From early winter to late spring, the reservoir system has the capacity to store 11 million acre-feet of water—a volume equal to 1 foot of water covering 11 million acres. During the summer, a capacity of 5 million acre-feet is maintained to reduce flooding caused by summer storms.
Flood Storage Upstream of Chattanooga
Chattanooga, Tenn., is the most flood-prone city in the Tennessee Valley because the city is just upstream of the narrow gorge where the Tennessee River cuts through the Cumberland Mountains. Before there was a TVA, high river flow would reach the bottleneck of the mountain gorge, and the flow would slow and start to backup—flooding Chattanooga at least once a year.
Throughout the eastern Tennessee Valley and upstream of Chattanooga, 32 dams (24 TVA, four Duke Energy and four Brookfield Smoky Mountain Hydropower) work collectively to protect Chattanooga. The seven tributary workhorses of the reservoir system providing the most flood storage are as follows:
- Norris Reservoir on the Clinch River
- Fontana Reservoir on the Little Tennessee River
- Douglas Reservoir on the French Broad River
- Cherokee Reservoir on the Holston River
- Chatuge Reservoir on the Hiwassee River
- Hiwassee Reservoir on the Hiwassee River
- Nottely Reservoir on the Nottely River
Flood Storage Downstream of Chattanooga
Kentucky Reservoir, spanning 207 river miles upstream to Pickwick Dam, has 4 million acre-feet of flood storage during winter and early spring. This represents more than 40 percent of the flood storage of the entire reservoir system. This capacity is used to reduce flood crest on the Mississippi River at Cairo, Ill., by as much as 2 to 3 feet.
More About Storage
Other main-river reservoirs upstream of Kentucky, but downstream of Chattanooga—Pickwick, Wheeler, Guntersville—provide about 1 million acre-feet of storage. This is used to supplement storage in Kentucky Reservoir and to reduce flooding downstream of these dams.
All the storage in main-river reservoirs is limited by topography and the requirement outlined in the TVA Act of 1933 for providing a channel depth of 11 feet for commercial navigation from Paducah, Ky., to Knoxville, Tenn.
Chattanooga’s Biggest Flood
The largest flood in Chattanooga's history occurred in March 1867, before the TVA system was created. The flood crested at 58 feet and completely inundated the city. Since the completion of the reservoir system, the highest Chattanooga flood stage was nearly 37 feet, which occurred in 1973. Without regulation, the flood would have reached 52.4 feet.
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.