The quality of the water in the Tennessee River system affects not only the people who live in the TVA region but also business and industry and the plant and animal life that are part of the river ecosystem. In managing the river system, TVA uses a integrated method that balances water quality with the other demands on the system.
TVA does not have the authority to regulate water pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency and each of the states that share the river set their own pollution regulations and grant discharge permits. Those controls are mostly focused on business and industrial operations located along the river. However, it is your responsibility to keep trash and other pollutants from getting into the waterway by disposing of wastes properly.
River System Monitoring
The first step in managing water quality is to determine the actual health of the river. TVA rates the condition of each reservoir and 587 streams based on five ecological factors.
Sampling by TVA Watershed Teams made up of water-resource professionals and education specialists conduct sampling of fish at stream sites each year to help identify key issues and steps that might be taken to improve water quality at each site.
TVA and state agencies issue sport fishing ratings of the regions lakes, indicating the presence and health of different sport fish. State agencies also issue fish consumption advisories. TVAs annual Spring Sport Fish Survey checks the size and health of bass in a number of TVA lakes.
TVA monitors water temperatures in the Elk River closely so that it can adjust the operation of Tims Ford Dam to protect the variety of life in the river, including a cold-water trout fishery, and endangered species and sport fish that require warm water.
TVA works with other agencies, communities and industries to improve water quality. In 1992, it began the Clean Water Initiative, which helps ensure clean water for communities, and the animal and plant life in the streams that run through them.
Clean marinas and clean boating
Boating is one of the most popular recreational uses of TVA lakes. TVAs TVA Region Clean Marina Initiative certifies marinas that meet pollution-control standards. TVA is also an active participant in the national Clean Boating Campaign, helping educate boaters and marina operators in practices that reduce pollution and erosion on the waterways.
Improved release of water at dams
Two conditions related to hydropower production can be harmful to fish and other life in the water: low concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the water released through the dam during generation of power, and dry riverbeds that result when power generation is shut off. Since the early 1990s, TVA has spent more than $60 million to address these problems.
TVA has installed equipment and changed operations at many of its dams to add life-sustaining oxygen to the tailwater (the area below the dam), and to keep water running more consistently in the rivers below dams. Studies show that these improvements have benefited life in more than 300 miles of river and resulted in a dramatic increase in tailwater fishing, which aids local economies. Learn more.
Like all industries that operate on the Tennessee River, TVA must hold discharge permits under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. Most of what is discharged into the river by TVA is water that has been heated during the process of generating electricity at coal-fired and nuclear plants. However, release of storm water, sewage and substances produced by activities such as coal and ash handling and equipment cooling is also subject to the rules of the permit system.
All of TVAs power generation operations hold discharge permits, as do some of its maintenance and power service shops. Each permit is very specific, and discharge limits are set at levels that protect life in the water and human health.