A sign warns of dangers near a TVA dam. (Photo: Contributed)

With heavy rains, reservoir levels in the Tennessee Valley are higher than normal, and many TVA dams are generating, sluicing and/or spilling water, creating potentially dangerous conditions for recreational users.

It isn’t unusual for dams to spill at rates of up to a million gallons per second. This creates hazardous conditions for recreational lake users, particularly those who willfully ignore horns, lights and signs meant to warn them away from certain danger and even potentially deadly situations.

This table shows the types of warning devices installed at various dams throughout the Tennessee Valley.


“There is a lot of water moving through the system at a pretty good clip now, and I think that many people just don’t understand the tremendous power that water has,” director of TVA Police Todd Peney said. “We’re seeing situations in which people are ignoring our warning systems, thinking that they can handle the water or that they know better, and that can lead to disaster.”

And what would disaster look like? Think boats pulled over spillways and plunging hundreds of feet into roiling water, fishermen on banks losing their footing and getting sucked under the surface by the whirl created during generation, and kayakers in lifejackets losing control and submitting to strong undertows.

“When the water is like this, you just can’t win—no boat engine can overcome the force of a dam spillway,” Peney said. “We’re seeing a lot of debris throughout the system, which is another danger. You can easily encounter a log that’s been swept out of someone’s yard or away from a dock, and that, too, can capsize a boat or knock a fisherman off his feet.”

TVA urges recreational users to be smart and be safe. Pay attention to water warnings. And always heed alarms when you’re in the water near dams.