Study redefines TVA's role in river management

By Thomas Wilson

TVA is seeking the public's input on a Reservoir Operations Study to plan for future management of the Tennessee River System.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is seeking public advice on how to adapt to the changing demands of managing the 40,000-mile Tennessee River system.
"It has been 10 years since TVA has examined the way we operate the river system," TVA board member Skila Harris said during a recent visit to Elizabethton.
TVA will hold 12 community workshops during July and August to obtain public comments on eight policy alternatives developed as part of a comprehensive two-year study of operating policies for managing the Tennessee River system.
The Reservoir Operations Study is being conducted to determine if changes in river system operating policies would produce greater overall public value. A draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) containing the alternatives was developed with guidance from the public and federal, state and local agencies.
Harris said the agency sought to balance power generation, river navigation, flood control and recreational use of river systems. "It is important to you if you're a recreational user," she said. "We believe it is important to the quality of life."
The scoping process for the EIS identified a broad range of issues and values to be addressed and alternatives to be evaluated in the ROS. Overall, the public placed a high value on recreation, a healthy environment, production of electricity, flood control and water supply.
TVA owns and operates 49 dams and reservoirs (called projects) in the Tennessee River and Cumberland River watersheds. The scope of the EIS included evaluating the operations of 35 of these projects -- projects for which TVA schedules water releases and reservoir levels in accordance with its reservoir operations policy.
The current operating policies provide year-round navigation and flood-risk reduction; supply affordable and reliable electricity, recreation opportunities, an adequate supply of water, and improved water quality; and support sustainable economic growth.
The alternatives include a "base case" alternative and seven others with proposed operational changes that would alter the balance of benefits provided by the river system. Examples include holding summer levels longer to enhance recreation and providing greater depths in the river for commercial navigation.
One reservoir recreation alternative would extend the summer pool period and delay unrestricted drawdown on 10 lakes -- including South Holston and Watauga -- of the tributary reservoirs until Labor Day (a month longer than under the base case).
For the Summer Hydropower Alternative, the method of flood storage allocation would be revised to provide adequate storage for inflow for the 7-day, 500-year storm, allowing flood guides on tributary reservoirs to be raised in some cases.
Under the Commercial Navigation Alternative, changes to operations would primarily affect mainstem reservoirs. Raising the winter flood guides by 2 feet on mainstem reservoirs, where possible, would increase the navigation channel depth to 13 feet (providing an 11-foot navigation channel with a 2-foot overdraft). The mainstem winter operating range would be modified from 2 feet to allow only a 1-foot fluctuation on those mainstem reservoirs raised two feet in winter.
After obtaining comments on the alternatives, TVA will develop a final EIS that identifies a preferred alternative. The Tennessee River watershed includes 129 counties in seven states and encompasses 40,900 square miles.
Two workshops held in Northeast Tennessee will give local citizens an opportunity to learn about the reservoir study and submit comments to TVA. The local workshops will be held at the following:
* July 24, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Centre, Bristol, Tenn.
* July 28, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Morristown Hamblen High School West, Morristown.