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Hydro Review

Common Goal: Partnership Between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and TVA

Over the past 80 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority have engaged in a dynamic partnership to promote and expand hydropower in the Cumberland and Tennessee river basins.

By Fred Tucker

Creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority through a Congressional Act on May 18, 1933, relieved the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of most of its role in developing the economic potential of the Tennessee River and its tributaries. From that point on, the Corps retained, a development and operational role on the Cumberland River, resulting in a dynamic partnership between the two agencies that has greatly improved the quality of life in the Cumberland and Tennessee river basins.

Flowing roughly parallel, the Cumberland River flows south from Kentucky, across upper middle and west Tennessee, up through western Kentucky emptying into the Ohio River. The Tennessee River flows south from Knoxville through Chattanooga to Guntersville, Ala., then northwestward through Muscle Shoals to Mississippi before continuing north through west Tennessee and western Kentucky, emptying into the Ohio River.

Barkley Canal connects the two rivers above Barkley and Kentucky Dams.

A long history of collaboration

Army engineers began mapping the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers for improvements to permit navigation in the late 1700s, but lack of funding, jurisdictional squabbling, the Civil War, differing priorities, fledgling public-private ventures, a depression and lack of national authority continued to limit potential development especially on the Tennessee River.

By 1924, the Corps had completed the construction of 15 locks and dams on the Cumberland River, assuring a 6-foot channel depth for navigation.

On the Tennessee River, funds appropriated to the Corps paid for construction of a lock at Hales Bar Dam completed by the Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power Company in 1913 at River Mile 421.1, Haletown, Tenn. The Corps also constructed Wilson Dam, the largest hydroelectric installation in the world in 1926 (in terms of dam length, not hydropower capacity. There were eight generators originally, now 21), to provide power for nearby nitrate plants and to improve navigation for Tennessee River traffic.

The double lift locks installed at a dam in Muscle Shoals, Ala., opened to navigation in 1927 with a normal lift of 93 to 100 feet, at the time the highest in the world and now highest east of the Rocky Mountains. The design and engineering of the structures set two world records: the 4,862-foot length of the dam and the lock lift height.

After unsuccessful attempts by private industry to develop hydropower in the Tennessee Valley, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to lift the nation out of the Great Depression included a request to Congress to create "a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise," to address a wide range of issues.

TVA was created in 1933 to improve the navigability and to provide for flood control of the Tennessee River; to provide for reforestation and the proper use of marginal lands in the Tennessee Valley; to provide for the agricultural and industrial development of said valley; to provide for the national defense by the creation of a corporation for the operation of Government properties at and near Muscle Shoals in the State of Alabama, and for other purposes, such a providing electrical power. The most dramatic change in valley life came from the electricity generated by TVA hydroelectric facilities. Electric lights and modern appliances made life easier and farms more productive. Electricity also drew industries into the region, providing desperately needed jobs.

During World War II, the U.S. needed aluminum to build bombs and airplanes, and aluminum plants required electricity. To provide power for such critical war industries, TVA engaged in one of the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in the country. The effort reached its peak in early 1942, when 12 hydroelectric project and a steam plant were under construction at the same time, and design and construction employment reached 28,000.

Initially, federal appropriations funded all TVA operations, but appropriations for its power program ended in 1959, when Congress authorized TVA to issue bonds. Appropriations for its environmental stewardship and economic development activities were phased out by 1999, and TVA is now fully self-financing primarily through electricity sales to 155 power distributor customers and 56 directly served industries and federal facilities, such as the Y-12 Complex at Oak Ridge and large private industrial complexes TVA's power service territory includes most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia, serving more than 9 million people over 80,000 square miles.

Today, TVA maintains conventional hydroelectric dams throughout the Tennessee River system and the Raccoon Mountain pumped storage facility to produce electricity. Additionally, four Alcoa dams on the Little Tennessee River and eight Corps dams on the Cumberland River contribute to the TVA power system.

Corps projects in the Nashville District

Is there a duplication of effort by TVA and the Corps' Nashville District in the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers basin?

"The answer to duplication is 'No.' Generally speaking, TVA has developed multi-purpose projects on the Tennessee River and its tributaries and the Corps has developed multi-purpose projects on the Cumberland River and its tributaries," says Mike Wilson, deputy district engineer for programs and project management with the Corps. "Mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships have been developed to better serve stakeholders in the Twin Rivers basin as needs evolve."

TVA owns the nine dams, hydropower plants and locks on the Tennessee River as well as Melton Hill Dam on the Clinch River. TVA operates the dams and hydropower plants, manages water levels, provides flood risk reduction, offers recreational activities and deals with other environmental issues at these facilities. The Nashville District operates and maintains the navigational locks and channels at these 10 dams.

The Nashville District owns, operates and maintains the 10 dams, nine hydropower plants and four navigation locks on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. It maintains 1,175 navigable river miles on the two rivers and remotely operates the Detroit District's Sault Ste. Marie hydropower plant in Michigan. The Nashville District also manages water levels, provides flood risk reduction, offers recreational activities and deals with other environmental and regulatory issues at its 10 projects on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. Thus, there are clearly defined areas of responsibility on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.

Construction is under way on the Kentucky Lock Addition in Grand Rivers, Ky., a new 1,200-foot lock landward of the existing 600-foot lock and the relocated highway and railroad bridges downstream of the dam. The upstream-bound split barge will be able to lock through as a single tow when work is completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Construction is under way on the Kentucky Lock Addition in Grand Rivers, Ky., a new 1,200-foot lock landward of the existing 600-foot lock and the relocated highway and railroad bridges downstream of the dam. The upstream-bound split barge will be able to lock through as a single tow when work is completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority. (Photo courtesy Corps)

Navigating the basins

"By law, dating back to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1824, the Corps operates and maintains all navigable inland waterways in the U.S.," says Nashville District Commander Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp. In addition to the nine TVA Locks on the Tennessee River, Melton Hill Lock on the Clinch River, and its 10 projects on the Cumberland, the Corps is "also responsible for maintaining all navigation channels on both river systems," he says.

New construction and major rehabilitation of inland navigation facilities are cost-shared 50/50 with Congressional appropriations and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is funded by a 20-cent tax on each gallon of commercial marine diesel fuel sold. However, this fund is not sufficient to cover all new construction and rehabilitation costs needed for the aging system, according to DeLapp. The long-standing, close working relationship between TVA and the Nashville District is symbolized by the Barkley Canal, which connects the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers a short distance upstream from the Barkley and Kentucky Dams. Barkley Dam is owned by the Corps and Kentucky Dam is owned by TVA. The 1.75-mile-long canal provides a navigable channel for both commercial and recreational vessels moving on the two rivers, and both reservoirs are operated as a unit for flood control and the production of hydropower.

"We are joined at the hip," says John McCormick, TVA's senior vice president for river operations. "Lt. Col. DeLapp and I meet quarterly, and our staffs communicate daily." DeLapp concurs, "We and our staffs discuss and coordinate issues of mutual concern, share expertise and provide support to maximize our limited dollars."

Ensuring hydropower supply

The Nashville District produces about $40 million in annual revenue by converting water's energy into 3.4 billion kWh of electricity using 28 turbine-generator units at its nine hydropower plants (914 MW) in the Cumberland River Basin, according to David Mistakovich, chief of the hydropower branch. "Utilizing hydropower to generate electricity is a dependable, renewable, and environmentally-friendly power source," he says.

However, with a lack of federal funding for rehabilitation or replacement, Corps hydropower plants have exceeded their typical design life of 35 to 40 years, having been in service on average more than 50 years. The risk of component failure increases with time.

Keeping the aging generators and switchyards operating has only been possible through the outstanding performance of the men and women who have operated and maintained this equipment over the decades with limited routine maintenance funds, according to Jay Sadler, a mechanical engineer in Nashville District's hydropower branch. "Although our economical, 'green' Cumberland River hydropower plants don't generate as much electricity as a fossil-fired or nuclear power plant, it is important that we have them to augment other power systems as needed. A major advantage is they can start and stop generating immediately, which the others cannot do," Sadler says.

An additional funding source for rehabilitation was authorized by Section 212 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (PL 106-541), which allows hydropower revenues to be used for rehabilitating hydropower facilities in lieu of appropriations.

Subsequently, the 2011 Memorandum of Agreement among the Nashville District, U.S. Department of Energy, Southeastern Power Administration (SEPA), and 24 SEPA preference customers provides Section 212 rehabilitation funding for the next 20 years.

SEPA markets electricity from the Cumberland River system to public bodies and cooperatives, referred to as preference customers. Receipts from those preference customers that are signatories to the 2011 MOA are forwarded for the rehabilitation, non-routine maintenance, and modernization of Nashville District's hydropower projects, according to Mistakovich.

"This MOA is a win-win mechanism that provides funding for rehabilitation and modernization of equipment for the Nashville District's power plants, and guarantees continued low-cost energy for SEPA customers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Illinois," DeLapp said. "We are presently negotiating for an additional MOA to include TVA and the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association to further increase this mutually beneficial opportunity."

In the next 20 years, SEPA plans to direct more than $1.2 billion into Corps projects, including $25 million to $40 million per year for rehabilitating the Nashville District's 28 turbine-generator units, according to Wilson.

"The higher figure includes anticipated increased power production at the Wolf Creek and Center Hill Hydropower Plants when those lakes can be safely raised to their normal levels after major dam safety rehabilitation projects are completed at each, and when the Corps successfully completes negotiations for an additional MOA to include TVA and the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association," Wilson added.

Wolf Creek Dam's eight-year, $594 million Safety Rehabilitation project is nearing completion and the Corps goal is to raise Lake Cumberland to normal level in the spring of 2014, according to Don Getty, Nashville District project manager.

Center Hill's nine-year, $350 million Dam Safety Rehabilitation Project is estimated to be completed in late 2016, after which the lake should be raised to its normal level.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Nashville District lifts the rotor assembly from a 270-ton unit at the Barkley Dam Hydropower Plant in August 2012. A complete stator rewind was completed to Barkley's Unit 1 generator, which suffered severe damage in a phase-to-ground fault in December 2010.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Nashville District lifts the rotor assembly from a 270-ton unit at the Barkley Dam Hydropower Plant in August 2012. A complete stator rewind was completed to Barkley's Unit 1 generator, which suffered severe damage in a phase-to-ground fault in December 2010. (Photo courtesy Lee Roberts, USACE)

Regulatory relationships

As TVA and the Corps have related authorities for regulating waters of the U.S. in the Tennessee River Valley, a 1985 Memorandum of Understanding was executed, setting forth procedures for a joint permit application, public notices and coordination of environmental reviews of permit applications under the National Environmental Policy Act. In 2011, the agencies further clarified those lead federal agency roles where overlapping environmental reviews include NEPA, the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Under the authority of Section 26a of the TVA Act of 1933, TVA serves as the lead agency for those actions across, along or in TVA reservoirs where U.S. property in TVA custody or control is involved. For those actions considered off-reservoir, the Corps serves as lead agency for conducting requisite environmental reviews under the authority of Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, according to Tammy Turley, chief of the Nashville District's regulatory branch.

Additional partnering

The Nashville District partners with TVA through interagency and support agreements under the authority of the Economy in Government Act. An example of this was in early 2012, when the Nashville District and TVA entered into an agreement for TVA Power Service Shop personnel from Muscle Shoals, Ala., to install generator circuit breakers at the Corps' nine hydropower plants. TVA installed the Corps-furnished breakers as specified and shown on the contract drawings.

Close coordination has been maintained between TVA and the Corps for the design efforts at the Kentucky Lock Addition and the Chickamauga Lock Replacement projects. The $857 million Kentucky Lock Addition project has relocated utilities, a federal highway and a railroad from across the dam to a location downstream, and a 110 by 1,200-foot lock is being constructed landside of the existing 110 by 600-foot to accommodate today's larger barge tows. The estimated completion is 2019, contingent on funding past fiscal 15, according to Adam Walker, Nashville District project manager.

The $693 million Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project to replace the 73-year-old, badly deteriorating 60-by-360-foot lock with a 110-by-600-foot chamber is 27% completed, with $185 million obligated.

Existing construction contracts on the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Lock project will be completed this year. If no additional funding is received construction will be suspended.

"Nashville District's goal is to complete the new lock before closure becomes necessary," said Jamie James, project manager. "There are three navigation locks and 318 navigable stream miles upstream of Chickamauga Lock that would be isolated from the Inland Waterways System if the lock is closed.

This would present difficulties in transporting materials to upstream industries, including TVA nuclear power plants, U.S. Department of Energy facilities at Oak Ridge, and the loss of transportation rate savings in that area," James added.

The Corps also has utilized TVA engineers to design culvert valves for Kentucky Lock and Wilson Lock. In addition to design collaborations, TVA personnel have been integrated into Corps project delivery teams for the evaluation and maintenance of the existing Chickamauga Lock, according to Britt Henderson, civil engineer in the Nashville District's civil/structural section.

Representatives of the two agencies meet quarterly to discuss policy and partnering opportunities and to jointly review budget items to economize purchasing like items and share training programs, such as dam safety classes.

The two agencies are joined at the hip, coordinate issues of mutual concern, share expertise and provide support to maximize limited dollars in serving stakeholders in the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers Basin.


1Johnson, Leland R., "Engineers on the Twin Rivers, A History of the U.S. Army Engineers Nashville District 1769-1978," 1st Ed, U.S. Army Engineer District, Nashville, Tenn., 1978.

HydroVision is coming to Nashville in July!

Speaking of the area where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority are partnering, HydroVision International 2014 is being held in Nashville, Tenn., July 22-25.

This world's largest hydro industry event offers engaging panel presentation, technical paper and poster gallery sessions; an exhibit floor with product and service suppliers, numerous technical tours to nearby hydroelectric facilities, and many other events you won't want to miss.

One in particular is the Waterpower Hydro Basics Course, held July 21-22. This is an excellent opportunity for those new to hydro to gain knowledge and experience in the industry. Course registrants also can take an optional tour of the Corps' 100-MW Old Hickory hydro facility on the Cumberland River.

The 2014 technical tours are can't-miss opportunities for attendees. Delegates will travel to the Corps' 130-MW Barkley plant on Monday, July 21, as well as TVA's 184-MW Kentucky Dam facility. On Tuesday, July 22, another tour will visit the Corps' 135-MW Center Hill plant on the Cumberland River, which is currently undergoing work to manage seepage problems.

To learn more about this year's event, visit www.hydroevent.com.

Fred Tucker is public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Nashville District.

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