Ocoee Decision Signed - Releases to Continue! (TN)

posted May 16, 2018
by Kevin Colburn

article photo 2

Earlier today the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released their decision and accompanying final analysis regarding the future of dam releases on the wildly popular Ocoee River. TVA decided to provide a flow schedule nearly identical to the current schedule on both the Middle and Upper Ocoee. Doing so will foster the robust recreation-based economy that relies on the river, and will protect existing ecological and recreational values. 

The decision green-lights agreements under which, starting in 2019, TVA will provide 15 years of releases similar to the current schedule with a 15-year renewal likely, the state will pay TVA $11.78 million for the releases, and outfitters will help the State cover management costs through a licensing fee of up to 10%. This is a unique arrangement. The agreements will not apply fees or restrict access to private boaters, and do not cover a beloved week of current releases each fall known as “secret week.” 

Early in the process American Whitewater and others requested that TVA consider providing the fall week of releases outside of the agreements, for their recreational, economic, and potentially their ecological value. TVA considered this option but did not recommend it in their Draft Environmental Assessment. In response, American Whitewater filed joint comments with the Southern Environmental Law Center again requesting that the fall week of releases be included in future management. We are delighted that the final decision includes this recreationally valuable week of flows. In their decision TVA states: 

“Although TVA would bear the fractional cost associated with the replacement power generation for these five release days, those minimal costs were determined to be outweighed by the economic benefits to the community that the release days provide.”

This is a game-changing shift in perspective for TVA, who has always required compensation for flow releases regardless of their high public value. We appreciate TVA’s willingness to reconsider their ability to release water for recreational and economic benefits. You can see the final resulting schedules below:

We’d like to thank some key individuals and organizations who helped out on this project. Sam Evans, Laura LaFleur, and Anne Passino at the Southern Environmental Law Center brought top notch legal and policy analysis to our collaborative work on the TVA decision process. Brian Bivens worked expertly on behalf of the outfitters to create a viable path forward for releases. Staff from TVA, the State of Tennessee, the US Forest Service, and the Outfitters all worked for years to reach agreement. NRS provided American Whitewater with direct support for this project. Thanks all!

Learn more at the TVA press release

Enjoy 15 more years on the Ocoee River!