The Guntersville mayor and City Council toured the Guntersville Dam on Monday, Nov. 4.
At the beginning of the tour, Lauren Peto with TVA government relations took the group up to a meeting room. In the room, there was a television. Chip Troy, the dam manager, came in and spoke to the group using slides.
On these slides, Troy discussed some interesting facts about Guntersville Dam. The Guntersville Dam is the southernmost point of dams in the Tennessee Valley. It was constructed in 1935 and finished in 1939. Once you first walk into the building, there is a sign that reads “1935 – built for the people of the United States.”
The area was once looked at prior to TVA in 1828 for the use of a dam as well. TVA and Guntersville Dam came into existence largely because a senator from Nebraska. Sen. George Norris came into the area and saw how poor the area was. This led him to sponsor the bill to create the Tennessee Valley Authority.
One of the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when TVA is mentioned is electricity. But electricity is not their number one priority. Their number one priority is flood control. The second is navigation and for Guntersville Dam, electricity could be third or fourth.
Guntersville also provides cooling water for Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant further downstream.
The water is warmer near Browns Ferry and the Guntersville Dam can send water down to their facility to cool the water. Troy asked if anyone had ever scuba dived and no one admitted that they had. He said the water pressure and temperature changes as you go down deeper.
Another thing the water provides is recreation. According to Mayor Dollar, Guntersville is ranked No. 2 in the nation for bass fishing and Troy said Chickamauga is rated 6th.
He said another recreation that happens at Guntersville Lake is the Iron Man triathlon. During their race, the dam slows down the water flow so the current does not slow down racers' times too much. The dam will also maintain water flow for tournaments and other important activities on the lake.
The dam also provides water downstream water quality. Huntsville Utilities has its new intake near the lock on the dam. Their facility is on the north shore of the property.
In the presentation, he showed Guntersville before the lake was built and how TVA gave the citizens jobs.
There are 29 hydroelectric dams in the Tennessee Valley system. There are 49 dams, but that includes the non-powered dams. The Tennessee River starts upstream of Knoxville and flows 652 miles south then west across northern Alabama and a small portion of northern Mississippi before turning north into Kentucky.
Guntersville Dam is 94 feet high and stretches 3,979 feet across the Tennessee River. It is a hydroelectric facility and has four generating units. The fourth generator came from another location. The Guntersville Reservoir has almost 890 miles of shoreline and 67,900 acres of water surface. It stretches to Nickajack in Tennessee. When Guntersville was first flooded, it went all the way to Chickamauga. At the time, Nickajack had not been built.
In one of the slides, all of the 29 hydroelectric dams were indicated with blue dots. There were lines around the areas that were covered with TVA’s power. The area that surrounds the majority of the hydroelectric dams was outlined in green. This area is the Tennessee Valley while the black/gold area around that goes into Kentucky and Mississippi, which also receive power from TVA. TVA serves seven states.
Troy explained using a diagram how electricity is created. Hydroelectric power is produced as water passes through a dam into a river below and typically the more water that passes through, the more energy is produced.
The water starts in an intake and moves down to a gate. The gate leads to a turbine. The drawing is a little different than the actual structure at the Guntersville Dam. This turbine spins, but the unit is more like gills. The water causes these structures to move and it makes electricity. The water passes through this area into the draft tube and then is released into the water.
They do inspections on the dam regularly, but every few years they stop one of the turbines to make sure it is working properly.
Troy showed a video that can be found on TVA’s website of the Guntersville Dam. It had some interesting facts and showed more of the dam than the tour did. It discusses how they are able to repair anything that is wrong. The video also showed the dam from an aerial view. Troy said the video was taken by a drone.
After the video, the group discussed some about flooding. With the flooding in December 2015 and the excessive amounts of rain in February and March 2019, the dam has been working extra hard. The dam’s main goal is flood control. There were people working on flood control the entire time and it never reached the top of the spillways. It came close, but never went over.
There are only two dams that do not have a road that goes over them. Guntersville is one. The reason they do not have a road over it is because the city of Guntersville asked. They thought they would lose people coming into their community and they did not want the road to bypass the city.
Troy said he is glad that Guntersville does not have a road above it. It would make it harder for them to be able to keep an eye on things and they would have to maintain it.
After a brief discussion of the video and several questions were answered, the group toured the facility. The pedestrian walkway was the main area toured. The tours and pedestrian traffic on the Guntersville Dam probably will not start back because of 9/11. He would like to be able to show the public again, but he does not believe they will be able to.
Before going outside, Troy showed the group the control room through the glass. The control room was once used, but it is not used as much now. There were once 30 or so people that monitored it. They do have someone that responds to the sound alerts if they go off, but typically their hours are Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
As the group headed to the pedestrian walkway, Troy told people not to touch the hand railing and joked that it was not peeling paint if they saw a lot of white. The dam has issues with birds.
There are 18 spillways at the Guntersville Dam and Chattanooga is in charge of the water flow. It can still be done at the Guntersville location, but they do not typically need to control it from the Guntersville location. Troy said the way the spillways typically open are every other or so. This is to not cause so much water rushing in one specific location.
There is an area where trash floating downstream is gathered. This trash has anything from large tree limbs to plastic bottles. It is TVA’s responsibility to get rid of this garbage and it becomes expensive. Some of the smaller pieces of garbage can go through the dam and it does not hurt it when it does.
The dam had a few spillways opened, but it was nothing like it was in March when the mayor toured the dam with the Youth Council.
As the group finished the tour, Troy spoke about maintenance of the dam. They have to put caulk down regularly. One issue is the buzzards. These birds like to eat the caulk and anything rubber. He discussed if they do not put away some equipment, they will find these birds eating away at it.