USACE-TVA 80-year partnership a definite plus for Cumberland, Tennessee Rivers Basin
By Fred Tucker
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Although creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority by 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, the Corps retained a development and operational role on the Cumberland River and its tributaries.
Over the years, the partnership and relationships of the two agencies have greatly improved the quality of life in the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers Basins.
Army engineers began mapping the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers for improvements in the late 1700's, 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 in the Twin Rivers basin. (See ENGINEERS ON THE TWIN RIVERS, A History of the U.S. Army Engineers Nashville District 1769-1978, by Leland R. Johnson.)
By 1924, the Corps had completed 15 locks and dams on the Cumberland, assuring a six-foot channel depth. On the Tennessee River, funds appropriated to the Corps paid for construction of a lock at Hales Bar Dam, owned by the Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power Company. The Corps also constructed Wilson Dam, the largest hydroelectric installation in the world in 1926, to provide power for nearby nitrate plants and to improve navigation for Tennessee River traffic.
The Muscle Shoals, Ala., facility's double lift locks opened to navigation in 1927 with a normal lift of 93 to 100 feet, at the time highest in the world, 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.
TVA created by Congress
After unsuccessful attempts by private industry to develop hydropower in the Tennessee Valley, 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.
The Tennessee Valley Authority was created by Congressional Act on May 18, 1933 and later funded to build projects to reduce flood damage, improve navigation on the Tennessee River, provide electric power, and promote "agricultural and industrial development" in the region.
The most dramatic change in valley life came from the electricity generated by TVA dams. 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 United States 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 United States. The effort reached its peak in early 1942 when 12 hydroelectric projects 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, and appropriations for its environmental stewardship and economic development activities were phased out by 1999. TVA is now fully self-financing primarily through electricity sales to 155 power distributor customers and 56 directly served industries and federal facilities.
TVA's power service territory includes most of Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia, serving more than nine million people over 80,000 square miles.
(Please see http://www.tva.gov/abouttva/history.htm for TVA accomplishments, challenges, current goals and its vision for 2020, while staying focused on its service-based mission of delivering reliable, low-cost electricity, environmental stewardship, river management, technological innovation and economic development across the region.)
USACE Nashville District Projects
Is there a duplication of effort by TVA and USACE 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," said Mike Wilson, deputy district engineer for Programs and Project Management. "Mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships have been developed to better serve stakeholders in the Twin Rivers basin as stakeholder needs evolve," he added.
TVA owns the nine dams, hydropower plants and locks on the Tennessee River and the Melton Hill Dam on the Clinch River. TVA operates the dams, hydropower plants, manages water levels, flood risk reduction, recreational activities and other environmental issues at these facilities, and Nashville District operates and maintains the navigational locks and channels.
Nashville District owns, operates and maintains the 10 dams, nine hydropower plants and the four navigation locks on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. It maintains 1,175 navigable river miles on the two rivers and remotely operates Detroit District's Sault Ste. Marie hydropower plant in Michigan. Nashville District also manages water levels, flood risk reduction, recreational activities and 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.
"By law, dating back to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1824, the Corps operates and maintains all navigable inland waterways in the United States. Nashville District operates and maintains the nine TVA Locks on the Tennessee River, Melton Hill Lock on the Clinch River, and our 10 projects on the Cumberland. We are also responsible for maintaining all navigation channels on both river systems," said Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, district commander.
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 levied on each gallon of commercial marine diesel fuel sold. This fund is not currently 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 Nashville District is symbolized by the Barkley Canal, connecting the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers a short distance upstream of the Barkley and Kentucky Dams. The 1.75 mile 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," said John McCormick, TVA's senior vice president for River Operations. "Lt. Col. DeLapp and I meet quarterly and our staffs communicate daily--and hourly during high water events," he added.
DeLapp concurred and said, "We and our staffs discuss and coordinate issues of mutual concern, share expertise and provide support to maximize our limited dollars."
Nashville District produces about $40 million annual revenue by converting water's energy into 3.4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 28 generators at its nine Hydropower Plants 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," Mistakovich said.
However, with a lack of federal funding for rehabilitation or replacement, Corps hydropower plants have exceeded their typical design life of 35-40 years, having been in service on average more than 50 years, and the risk of component failure increases with time.
Keeping the aging generators and switchyards operating has been possible by 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 the 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 said.
An additional funding source 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, which have been limited for this purpose.
2011 MOA Provides Section 212 Rehabilitation Funding
Subsequently, the 2011 Memorandum of Agreement among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, the U.S. Department of Energy, Southeastern Power Administration, and 24 SEPA preference customers provides Section 212 rehabilitation funding for the next 20 years.
The SEPA markets electricity from the Cumberland 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 Nashville District's power plants, and better 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," DeLapp added.
In the next 20 years SEPA plans to direct more than $1.2 billion into Corps' projects including $25-$40 million per year for rehabilitating Nashville District's 28 hydropower generators, according to Wilson.
"The higher figure includes anticipated increased power production at Wolf Creek and Center Hill Hydropower Plants when those lakes can be safely raised to their normal levels, and when the Corps successfully completes negotiations for an additional MOA to include TVA and the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association," Wilson added.
As TVA and the Corps have related authorities for regulating waters of the United States 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 the environmental reviews 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 United States Property in TVA custody or control is involved. For those actions considered off reservoir, the USACE 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 Regulatory Branch.
"We coordinate more than 2,000 actions annually in the Tennessee River Valley and continually strive to enhance our unique relationship by streamlining regulatory efforts that ultimately benefit the agencies, the regulated public and the aquatic environment," Turley said.
The Nashville District partners with TVA through interagency and support agreements under the authority of the Economy in Government Act (31 U.S.C. §1535). An example of this was in early 2012 when the Nashville District and TVA entered into an agreement for TVA Power Service Shop personnel to install generator circuit breakers at the Corps' nine hydropower plants. TVA installed the USACE-furnished breakers as specified and shown on the contract drawings.
"The TVA was selected instead of going to a private contractor because they provided greater flexibility in meeting the changes in the Corps schedule as well as changes in design," Mistakovich said.
Close coordination has been maintained between TVA and USACE for the design efforts at the Kentucky Lock Addition and the Chickamauga Lock Replacement projects. The Corps has utilized TVA Engineers to design culvert valves for Kentucky Lock and Wilson Lock due to scheduling constraints. 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 Nashville District's Civil/Structural Section.
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 a Dam Safety classes among others.
As previously stated by McCormick and DeLapp, 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.