Good News on the Ocoee + a Public Meeting

posted December 8, 2017
by Kevin Colburn

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The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has released their Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) for the future of the Ocoee River. The news is generally good. They support the continuation of the historic flow schedule on both the Middle and Upper Ocoee River, minus 5 September weekdays on the Middle. The DEA finds that the releases benefit the local economy and at least one rare plant living on rocks in the riverbed. 

Paddlers can learn more and read the DEA, and can get involved in two ways:

1.     Attend a Meeting: TVA is hosting an informational open house at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee on Monday, December 11, 2017, (5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.), for the public to learn more about the agreement and the environmental analysis and to provide input, and:

2.     Send TVA a Comment: TVA is accepting public comments through January 5th. Consider voicing support for Alternative C, which includes the five fall releases not included in Alernative B. Respectful comments should be emailed to Matthew Higdon: mshigdon@tva.gov

The releases on the Ocoee have historically been provided through a complex and unprecedented arrangement in which rafting companies reimburse the TVA for power generation revenue that is foregone by releasing water into the river rather than through TVA’s diversion flume and powerhouse.  TVA’s selected alternative (Alternative B) endorses a plan to continue this arrangement for at least another 15-30 years, minus 5 fall release that are not part of the plan. Increased rates under the plan are expected to reduce recreational use and associated economic benefits. Private boaters would not be subject to fees under any alternative. 

American Whitewater was the only organization to previously file comments, and we proposed that TVA maintain at least the historic releases. TVA considered this alternative (Alternative C) in the DEA, but decided against it because they would not be paid for 5 weekday releases in the fall. We fundamentally disagree with TVA’s reasoning that “TVA [must] be reimbursed for the cost of replacement power when the water is used for recreational releases…” TVA can and should balance their use of the river for power generation with other public uses and values, just as all other dam owners must do. 

Regardless of whether TVA selects Alternative B or C, it appears extremely likely that the valuable and beloved Ocoee releases will continue in the future much as they have in the past. Thanks to all involved in these negotiations, those who weighed in with comments, and NRS for supporting AW's role.