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Chatuge Dam Safety Study

TVA is working to ensure that Chatuge Dam, completed in 1942, continues to safely operate for the next 80 plus years benefiting the Chatuge community and those living downstream.

QUESTIONS ANSWERS

Is the Chatuge Dam safe?

 The safety of the communities we serve is our top priority. While the dam is safe, TVA always errs on the side of caution. We’re focused on reducing the potential risk associated with the dam’s long-term operations.
 
This focus on safety is important given the dam and reservoir’s potential impact on the safety and livelihood of communities nearby and downstream.
 
What is wrong with the spillway?   The joints in the concrete slab and underdrain system of the spillway have deteriorated over the years. If TVA needs to use the spillway for an extended period, say to manage an extreme rainfall or flooding event, water flowing over the spillway could damage part of the concrete chute.
 
What is the probability that the spillway will be damaged?  There is a relatively high likelihood that the spillway could be damaged if used for an extended period and under extreme rainfall events.  However, this damage does not correspond to any uncontrolled release of water.
What is the probability that the spillway will fail?  The likelihood of a failure of the spillway causing an uncontrolled release of water from the reservoir is very low.
 
Again, the dam and spillway are judged safe for operation. 
 
What is the potential loss of life if the spillway fails?  The life loss associated with a spillway failure is dependent on a variety of factors, though the threat at the spillway is considerably less than that posed by the dam. TVA estimates several dozen people could lose their lives if the spillway were to fail. 
 
Again, the spillway is judged safe for normal operations in its current condition.  However, we are working to reduce the potential risk associated with the spillway's long-term operations.
 
What downstream and surrounding communities are impacted by potential safety issues at Chatuge Dam?  Some of the communities include Hayesville and Murphy, North Carolina. and Hiawassee, Georgia.
 
If the spillway were to fail, there could be a variety of impacts to human life, property, essential services, communications, and transportation routes.
 
TVA works closely with local emergency management agencies who are tasked with keeping residents informed of the risk and evacuating the population in the event of an emergency.
Why does Blue Ridge have a warning system and not Chatuge?
 
 Chatuge Dam does not have the same vulnerability to strong earthquakes as Blue Ridge Dam. Because earthquakes occur quickly and with little or no advance warning, public warning systems can be an effective means to help citizens evacuate areas which could be threatened by the potential effects of an earthquake on the dam. 
 
In comparison, flooding events of the type which threaten the Chatuge spillway typically unfold relatively slowly.  For these slower-developing threats, TVA has comprehensive emergency action plans and works with the Clay County Emergency Management Agency to protect the public downstream of the dam.
 
When did you know there was an issue with the spillway at Chatuge Dam?  Chatuge Dam has been evaluated against industry standards many times over the past decades, and it has consistently been judged safe to operate. 
 
During the past decade, there have been significant lessons learned in the dam safety industry, as well as significant changes to industry standards and practices. TVA's judgments to increase the safety of the dam and spillway are motivated by an interest in pro-actively providing appropriate protection for the public and adherence to modern standards in light of these industry changes.
 
What are the specific industry changes which are motivating TVA to act now?  Over the past several years, the dam safety profession has moved toward incorporating greater consideration of downstream consequences within evaluations of dam safety. TVA has been integrating this approach into its dam safety program as part of its ongoing commitment for all TVA dams to conform to modern standards for public protection. This change in industry practices is one factor in TVA's efforts to increase the safety of Chatuge Dam.
 
The most recent evaluations of the spillway at Chatuge were also influenced by industry lessons learned from damage to the Oroville Dam spillway in California, as released to the profession in 2018. The Oroville Dam incident demonstrated to the dam safety profession that a particular potential failure mechanism was much more dangerous than previously thought. TVA has judged the spillway at Chatuge Dam exhibits some vulnerability to this potential failure mechanism and has chosen to be pro-active in addressing the potential issue.
 
What are you doing to ensure safe operations of the spillway?  We have initiated a study intended to inform which types of modifications (if any) might be most beneficial for increasing dam safety. This study is scheduled to be completed during calendar year 2026. 
 
In the meantime, we have implemented several activities to ensure ongoing safe operations which include increased monitoring of the dam, increased interactions with local emergency management agencies, and placement of emergency response resources at or near the site.
 
How many feet will you potentially have to lower the reservoir?  And how long might the lowering persist?
 
 It’s premature to speculate about the impact on the reservoir until we finish the study in 2026. 
 
However, it is a common practice to lower reservoir levels for extended periods during the construction of major dam remediations. This option is one of several which must be considered once TVA has completed the current study and has selected a technique to remediate the spillway and provide any enhancements to the safety of the dam.
 
Are you lowering the reservoir in advance of any work on the spillway?  There are currently no active plans to alter seasonal levels of the reservoir pool from normal seasonal fluctuations, either temporarily or permanently. 
 
However, if at any time TVA judges it appropriate to lower the pool outside of normal seasonal operating levels to protect public safety, it would act to do so.
 
Is the work at Chatuge limited to the spillway, or will you work on the dam also?  The spillway is the primary concern for dam safety risk at Chatuge. However, if TVA were to initiate a remediation of the spillway, we may leverage that opportunity to also provide enhancements to the safety of the embankment dam.
 
Is this work being driven by considerations for climate change?
 
 The work is not motivated to accommodate future projections regarding climate change. However, any remediation of the dam provides an opportunity for TVA to reinforce its commitment to ensuring Chatuge Dam will provide public safety and other benefits well into the future. 
 
For this reason, TVA intends to incorporate principles of "adaptive design" into any remediation at Chatuge Dam, ensuring TVA can respond to future demands on the dam for the decades ahead.
 
How much is TVA investing in ensuring the risk is reduced?  It is premature to speculate about the potential costs until we finish the study in 2026 and determine the best approach to reduce the risk.
Will my electrical rates increase because of the cost of working on the spillway and/or dam?  Each year, TVA invests a portion of its funds into major construction projects.  These projects are a part of routine planning and do not require any changes to the existing rate structure agreed between TVA and your local power company.
 
When will TVA decide how to reduce the risk of the spillway failing?  TVA intends to issue a public notice of its intent to conduct a detailed, comprehensive study of several potential options to increase safety of the spillway. This study is planned for completion sometime in 2026.
 
Will TVA seek public feedback on its plans to reduce risk at Chatuge?  

TVA will actively engage the communities nearby and downstream, sharing and seeking comments on any plans to study and select an appropriate approach to increase the safety of the dam and spillway. 

Solicitation of public input regarding any proposed actions that may significantly alter a dam is a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act, and is a vital tool for TVA to maintain and demonstrate its commitment to bettering the quality of life for the citizens we serve.

What is the significance of Chatuge Dam?  TVA Dams, including Chatuge Dam, have been benefiting the people of the valley region for more than 80 years. These benefits include flood control, recreation, water supply, environmental stewardship, and the generation of low-cost, clean power. 
 
The waters in and around Chatuge are especially known for their value to recreational fishermen, whitewater enthusiasts, and local tourism. We understand the economic, environmental, and personal value of the dam and its reservoir to those in the nearby community as well as those downstream, and we are committed to ensuring the safe and long-term operations of Chatuge Dam for generations to come.
 
Is the Chatuge Dam also being worked on at the same time as Blue Ridge Dam?
 
 
 Given the scale of many dam safety remediation projects, concurrent work on both dams is a possibility. 
 
However, we do not yet know how likely it is that projects could be underway simultaneously at these two dams since the studies to define the remediations to be built at each dam have not been completed.
 
Is there any work being planned for Nottely Dam nearby?
 
 There are no current plans to modify the dam or spillway at Nottely Dam. If later, TVA judges modifications to Nottely Dam are appropriate to protect public safety or if there is an advantage to leveraging TVA resources from projects at Blue Ridge and Chatuge to improve conditions at Nottely Dam, TVA may elect to do so. 
 
A series of studies would need to be conducted prior to developing any plans at Nottely Dam, and no such studies have been initiated. 
 

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Chatuge Dam Facts

  • Located on the Hiwassee River at river mile 121.0 in Clay County, N.C.; 4.5 miles upstream from Hayesville, N.C.; 2.5 miles downstream from North Carolina-Georgia state line.
  • Construction of Chatuge Dam began on July 17, 1941; closure was on Feb. 12, 1942.
  • The dam is 150 feet high and stretches 3,336 feet across the Hiwassee River.
  • A single hydropower generating unit was added in 1954 with a net dependable capacity of 13 megawatts.
  • It took 21,900 cubic yards of concrete to build Chatuge Dam, and then 3,450 cu. yards for the single-unit addition.
  • The peak employment for the dam was 2,250; 102 for the single-unit addition.
  • Chatuge is named for a Cherokee Indian settlement in this mountain region. In early engineering reports it was known as Hayesville, after a nearby North Carolina town.