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Floating Houses

Frequently Asked Questions

1.  Why is TVA undertaking this review and action?

Developers are proposing residential-type communities on the TVA reservoirs for floating houses that are built and used primarily for human habitation.  Also, the rapid growth in recent years of unpermitted floating houses that likewise are being used for habitation, has raised concerns about potential environmental and safety impacts.  These impacts include electrical safety concerns, waste discharge, abandonment of derelict structures, and preemption of public waters for private use, among others.  While TVA’s existing Section 26a regulations prohibit new nonnavigable houseboats on any TVA reservoir and prohibit living space and sleeping areas on docks, piers, and boathouses, the regulations were not envisioned to address or manage the current floating houses that are primarily used for human habitation instead of recreational boating. 

2.  What is the general scope and number of floating houses on TVA reservoirs?

There are fixed-location floating houses on 13 TVA reservoirs that are used primarily for habitation.  Currently, it is estimated there are approximately 1,900 such structures, 950 of which have TVA nonnavigable houseboat permits.       

3.  What actions are planned to address these issues?

TVA  published a Notice of Intent in late April 2014 to conduct an environmental review and l five public meetings were conducted in May and June 2014 to provide information about the review, listen to stakeholders, discuss options, and determine the scope of related issues.  TVA’s goal is to engage those affected to help develop the best range of options for TVA’s consideration for future management.  This issue is difficult and TVA recognizes there are many varying perspectives from structure owners, lakefront property owners, public officials, the general public using reservoirs, marina owners, and regulatory agencies. 

4.  What authority does TVA have to regulate floating houses? 

TVA has jurisdiction under Section 26a of the TVA Act to regulate obstructions that affect navigation, flood control, or public lands across, along, or in the Tennessee River or any of its tributaries.  There are also required conditions in existing Section 26a permits and land use agreements with commercial marina operators that stipulate or restrict how TVA property and harbor areas can be used.   

5.  Why is TVA concerned with these issues now? 

Recent development proposals to use TVA reservoirs for residential-type communities of floating houses have brought increased attention to this issue.  In addition, TVA’s own review in the last few years has revealed an increase in unpermitted floating structures or houses, described by their owners as “boats”, but designed and used primarily for habitation. 

TVA is responsible for managing public lands and waters of the Tennessee River and its tributaries to protect environmental quality and provide public recreational benefits, along with primary purposes such as navigation and flood control.  The issues related to the growth of floating houses used for habitation can negatively impact water quality and public safety, and reduce opportunities for public recreation.  Addressing these issues now before they become more extensive could help ensure protection of the benefits and environmental quality of TVA reservoirs.    

6.  What is the expected timeframe to accomplish the NEPA review and reach a decision on future management of these issues?

TVA intends to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the impacts associated with TVA’s management and oversight of these structures, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  A draft of the environmental analysis will be available for public review in early 2015. TVA will complete the environmental analysis in the summer of 2015.  Any changes to management policy and rules  will likely be published in late 2015 and take effect in 2016.

7.  If minimum standards for floating houses used primarily for habitation and nonnavigable houseboats are under consideration, what types of standards might be included in the future?

Any future minimum standards would be developed as part of the NEPA review process with public review and input.  In general, potential standards could be considered that address water quality and management of waste, electrical safety, structural stability, size and flotation, and mooring practices.  The main purpose of the standards would be to support safe practices and minimize environmental impacts.   

8.  What does TVA require in regard to the control and handling of sewage from floating houses used for habitation and nonnavigable houseboats?  What are the rules for sewage disposal on TVA reservoirs that are designated “no discharge”?

TVA’s Section 26a regulations (1304.101 (c) require that all approved nonnavigable houseboats with toilets must be equipped with a properly installed and operating Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) or Sewage Holding Tank and pump out capability. 

  1. Nonnavigable houseboats moored on “Discharge Lakes” must be equipped with a Type I or Type II MSD. 
  2. Nonnavigable houseboats moored in “No Discharge Lakes” must be equipped with holding tanks and pump out capability.  If a nonnavigable houseboat moored in a “No Discharge Lake” is equipped with a Type I or Type II MSD, it must be secured to prevent discharge into the lake. 

TVA does not enforce water quality regulations; however, TVA requires in any issued Section 26a permit or approval full compliance with all applicable local, state, and federal laws, ordinances, and regulations. 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulations as authorized under Section 312 of the Clean Water Act require vessels equipped with installed toilets to use operable USCG certified Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD) (Types I, II, III).  In No Discharge Zones, a holding tank (Type III MSD) designed to prevent the overboard discharge of treated or untreated sewage or any waste derived from sewage must be used.              

9.  Is a commercially manufactured houseboat that has a motor and is navigable considered a floating house used for habitation?

A commercially manufactured houseboat designed and used primarily for recreational navigation or water transportation is not considered a floating house for purposes of this review.  If a manufactured houseboat is attached with permanent type anchoring/electrical supply, has engines removed, or is used primarily at a stationary location for habitation, it will be part of the current review. A determination would depend on the design and use. 

10.  Can I buy or sell an existing floating house?

TVA is not in a position to object to, or concur with a sale, only the structure’s use in the Tennessee River Watershed.  This would be a decision to be made by the purchaser and owner of the floating house.  Since TVA is currently reviewing its policies regarding nonnavigable houseboats and floating houses used primarily for habitation, future changes in management policies and rules could affect whether the structure can be approved and maintained in the future.  Full disclosure is recommended about the current review of these structures.   

11.  What are the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) rules for a vessel?  Does the USCG have jurisdiction?

The USCG considers the term “vessel” to include every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on the waters of the United States.  The USCG also regulates many other standards and requirements for manufacture and certification of boats and vessels, hull identification and numbering systems, and for a number of safety matters such as flotation and stability, electrical systems, fuel systems, ventilation, safe loading and safe powering.  

The USCG and EPA jointly regulate Marine Sanitation Devices (MSD’s) under Section 312 of the Clean Water Act.  EPA and USCG regulations under the Clean Water Act require vessels with toilets to be equipped with MSD’s (Type I, Type II, and Type III).  EPA has issued regulations setting performance standards for MSD’s (fecal coliform, total suspended solids) and the USCG has issued regulations governing the design, construction, certification, installation, and operation of MSD’s, consistent with EPA’s standards.

12.  When does all this take effect and what do I do in the interim?

The environmental review of floating houses is projected for completion in summer 2015.  Any proposed management policy and rule updates would likely be published late 2015, and would take effect in 2016.  You can stay current with the status of the review by visiting this  web site.         

13.  Can I build a floating house now and have it grandfathered when any new rules take effect?

Under current TVA regulations, only existing nonnavigable houseboats approved by TVA before February 15, 1978 were authorized to remain on TVA reservoirs.  Any nonnavigable houseboats or floating houses built for habitation now would be considered a violation.  A range of management alternatives may be considered in the environmental review that could vary from prohibiting and removing all to permitting existing and new floating houses used primarily for habitation.  A decision on what may be allowed or prohibited will not be made until after the environmental review is completed.  Any construction activities on TVA land require prior written approval from TVA.  In addition, TVA sent a letter to Norris Reservoir marina owners on November 15, 2010 requesting they discontinue construction and installation of floating houses marketed and sold for residential and/or commercial use. 














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