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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, 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 and nonnavigable houseboats on 16 TVA reservoirs that are used primarily for habitation. Currently, it is estimated there are over 1,800 such structures, half of which have TVA nonnavigable houseboat permits.

3. How is TVA addressing these issues?

TVA published a Notice of Intent in late April 2014 to conduct an environmental review and 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.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is now available for public review. Public meetings and a webinar session are being conducted during a 60-day public comment period ending August 18, 2015. The Floating Houses web page provides information about the public meetings schedule and a link to the EIS.

Depending on TVA’s final decision, its Section 26a regulations may be revised to address or manage the nonnavigable houseboats and the floating houses that are primarily used for human habitation instead of recreational boating. The revised regulations may establish new standards and minimum requirements.

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?

After the Draft EIS public review ends in August 2015, TVA will consider all comments submitted and complete a Final EIS before making its final decision. TVA expects to complete the final EIS in late 2015. TVA will make decisions regarding future management policy and whether/how to revise its regulations in 2016.

7. Does TVA have a preferred management alternative for floating houses?

TVA’s preference is to continue to allow nonnavigable houseboats in compliance with current permits and to allow and issue permits for (i.e., grandfather) the mooring of existing, currently unpermitted floating houses on TVA reservoirs but only if the floating houses comply with new standards and minimum requirements under development by TVA. Therefore, TVA is inclined to select Alternative B1 or Alternative B2. Alternative B2 is similar to B1 except that it would incorporate a sunset date by which time all floating houses and nonnavigable houseboats must be removed from TVA reservoirs. Noncompliant floating houses and nonnavigable houseboats would be removed from TVA reservoirs.

TVA encourages the public to provide comments on the Draft EIS and all the alternatives and will consider the input before making its final decision.

8. If minimum standards for floating houses are under consideration, what types of standards might be included in the future?

Future minimum standards are being developed as part of the NEPA review process with public review and input. See the draft EIS for potential standards under consideration. In general, potential standards could be considered that address water quality and management of waste, electrical safety, structure size and flotation, and mooring practices. The main purpose of the standards would be to support safe practices and minimize environmental impacts.

9. 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.

  • Nonnavigable houseboats moored on “Discharge Lakes” must be equipped with a Type I or Type II MSD.
  • 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.

The Environmental Protection Agency has designated certain TVA reservoirs as "no discharge" lakes. Generally, all freshwater lakes (and similar freshwater impoundments or reservoirs that have no navigable connections with other bodies of water), and rivers not capable of interstate vessel traffic, are by definition considered No Discharge Zones.

TVA No Discharge Lakes

  • Apalachia
  • Bear Creek Projects
  • Beech River Projects
  • Boone
  • Blue Ridge
  • Cherokee
  • Douglas
  • Fontana
  • Ft. Patrick Henry
  • Hiwassee
  • Nolichucky
  • Normandy
  • Norris
  • Nottely
  • Ocoee 1, 2, 3
  • Tims Ford
  • Watauga
  • Wilbur

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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

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, are authorized to be moored on TVA reservoirs. It is a violation of TVA’s regulations to moor new nonnavigable houseboats or floating houses built for habitation on TVA reservoirs. In the Draft EIS, TVA is considering a wide range of management alternatives. In some alternatives, TVA would prohibit and require the removal of existing, unpermitted floating houses. In other alternatives, TVA is considering whether to allow and issue permits for mooring of existing floating houses on TVA reservoirs. TVA will make a final decision on what may be allowed or prohibited after the environmental review is completed. Any construction activities on TVA land require prior written approval from TVA. In addition, TVA notified Norris Reservoir marina owners on November 15, 2010, and requested they discontinue construction and installation of floating houses marketed and sold for residential and/or commercial use.

14. If I own a pre-1978 approved nonnavigable houseboat, how would I be affected by the potential management alternatives and standards under consideration?

Generally, nonnavigable houseboats compliant with the conditions of a current TVA permit would not be subject to any new standards or minimum requirements that may be required for floating houses. However, TVA is considering establishing a requirement that owners of permitted nonnavigable houseboats with raw Styrofoam flotation replace it with encased Styrofoam or marine grade flotation by an established date. If your nonnavigable houseboat is not in compliance with the conditions of a current permit, TVA would require that the nonnavigable houseboat be modified to either meet the conditions of the current permit or meet the new floating house standards and requirements.

Permitted nonnavigable houseboats in compliance with conditions of approval would continue to be allowed under all the management alternatives with the exception of Alternative B2, under which all nonnavigable houseboats and floating houses must be removed from TVA reservoirs after a sunset period.

15. If I own an existing floating house, how would the potential management alternatives affect me?

Under Alternatives A, B1 and B2, TVA would require that existing unpermitted floating houses meet safety and environmental standards that TVA will establish in its revised Section 26a regulations. If these standards are not met, floating houses would be removed. Under Alternative B2, all floating houses must be removed after a sunset period expires.

Under Alternative C, all existing floating houses would have to be removed within 18 months of TVA’s final decision.

Under Alternative D, existing floating houses would have to be removed if they do not comply with the following criteria for a navigable houseboat as stated in current TVA Section 26a regulations:

  • Built on a boat hull or on two or more pontoons
  • Equipped with a motor and rudder controls located at a point on the houseboat with forward visibility over a 180-degree range
  • Compliant with all applicable state and federal requirements relating to vessels
  • Registered as a vessel in the state of principal use
  • State registration numbers clearly displayed on the vessel
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