Jan 8 2009
10:00 am

Unusually heavy rains and high water levels resulted in the release of an unknown "sludge-like material" into the Ocoee River earlier in the week.

According to Public Affairs Officer Terry McDonald at the Cherokee National Forest office in Cleveland, heavy rains and high water prompted a release from TVA's Ocoee Dam #3, which sent debris and a heavy flow of "sludge-like material" into the Ocoee River from the "White Water Center on down." Mr. McDonald said that samples of the material were collected and sent out for analysis.

TDEC has taken over investigation of the event. We contacted them about the release and will let you know when we hear back.

The Ocoee watershed in the lower East Tennessee Copper Basin is impacted by pollution from area copper and sulfur mining operations going back to 1843.

Ocoee Reservoir #3 is on the EPA's list of impaired waters, and a recent TDEC statewide water quality status report identifies the primary pollutants as copper, iron, and zinc. The 2008 report also says that Ocoee #3 is "almost filled" with sediment and suspended solids.

The public health risks do not appear to be serious or immediate. An EPA human health risk assessment advised against consuming more than 31.5 grams (4.5 servings) of fish per month from Ocoee #3 because of mercury (presumably from other sources such as coal-fired power plant emissions).

But the report also says that "exposure to contaminants in sediment and surface water of the Ocoee River are not predicted to result in unacceptable levels of health risk to area residents, recreational visitors, or whitewater rafting guides."

There's no word yet, though, on what the sludge-like material from Ocoee #3 is or what pollutants it might contain.

UPDATE: TDEC initial report.

WhitesCreek's picture

Record level for the Emory

Although not unusual for the season, the Emory River hit a record high level for the date yesterday. The previous record high was 19,100 Cubic Feet per Second. For comparison, the Ocoee typically runs around 1,200 CFS during rafting season. From the graph of the river flow measured at Oakdale (still above some of the smaller tributaries like Clifty Creek but a good indicator for the spill location) The flow hit 25,000 cfs.

Questions will have to be answered about how much sludge got past the new weir. A certain amount has to be expected.

Justin's picture

TN has turned in to a toxic

TN has turned in to a toxic waste dump.

Factchecker's picture

I guess we'll hear more...

It's FDR's fault. Or: Don't blame me--I voted Hoover!

rikki's picture

How big is this dam? It's #3

How big is this dam? It's #3 of how many? Are they numbered going downriver or upriver? Is it a power-generating dam or the one that regulates flow in the whitewater channel?

Rachel's picture

#3 is the dam most up river.

#3 is the dam most up river. It regulates releases for the whitewater area. I thought that was done mostly by sending water through the flume to the powerhouse or not, but I'm really hazy on details.

Edit: Here's the TVA webpage on this reservoir. (link...)

Nobody's picture

#3 is upsteam of #2 and #1.

#3 is upsteam of #2 and #1. #1 is the biggest. 3 is the second biggest. it is power generating primarily but of course they regulate how much is release for commercial use. in the summer, water is released from #3 about 30 days - just saturdays and sundays. water is released from #2 five days a week from memorial day to labor day. over 300,000 people raft on an 11 mile stretch each year immediately downstream of #3.

R. Neal's picture

There are three, looks like

There are three, looks like they are numbered going upstream (from looking at the map). TVA says together they generate 67,000 KW of power. #3 provides whitewater for the Olympic section, and the rafting area from #2.

They were built a long time ago and look pretty primitive. There's a wooden sluice running from one down the mountain to its powerhouse, as I recall.

Here's TVA's info on the system:


ETA: Reservoir #3 is 480 acres, #2 is 494. I believe Ocoee #1 is approx. 2000 acres.

R. Neal's picture

Metal Release from Bottom

Metal Release from Bottom Sediments of Ocoee Lake No. 3, a Primary Catchment Area for the Ducktown Mining District

...the metal-rich sediment of the lake should be considered as potentially hazardous to bottom-dwelling aquatic species and other organisms in the local food chain. In addition, if the reservoir is dredged or if the dam is removed, the accumulated sediment may have to be treated for recovery of sorbed metals.

R. Neal's picture

Link...The massive amounts

2002 planning report: (link...)

The massive amounts of sediment in the three TVA reservoirs on the Ocoee River present another challenge, due to the toxic metals that are present and the maintenance that is required to remove or flush sediments so that hydroelectric generation can continue. Flows, reservoir management and water quality are among the issues that will be part of TVA’s comprehensive 2-year reservoir operations study that is already underway.

Coincidentally, this problem now appears to be "solved"?

redmondkr's picture

I found this pretty good set

I found this pretty good set of Ocoee images on Flickr about a month ago.

According to 'flee the cities' the no. 1 dam was built in 1912.

Slide Show

Visit us at

The Home

WhitesCreek's picture

I know way too much about the Ocoee Dams

TVA charges us for our own water in order to have a whitewater mecca. Say what you will, the Ocoee rafting business has been an economic bonanza for several nearby counties.

We have to pay to run the Olympic course. It's worth it.

The sludge that got released is old mining sediment that filled in the reservoirs and gets flushed out from time to time. WE've been here before and nobody noticed or listened even though river people were screaming. Now it's different. This is very bad...and it's very good. Everybody's looking now. It's costing me tens of thousands of dollars in lost property values and more is property sales that have been lost, but...In the long run it's going to be worth it.

Suddenly, Everybody in America is an environmentalist. I welcome them to the fight.

Mykhailo's picture

TVA charges us for our own

TVA charges us for our own water in order to have a whitewater mecca.

Or, alternatively, the ratepayers don't subsidize the whitewater industry.

WhitesCreek's picture

Ratepayers subsidize the

Ratepayers subsidize the Coal Industry and the Greater Energy Industry as well as paying for the final product.

What you missed was that the economic boom of that area now has branched out far beyond the small rafting industry. The rafting tourism is the catalyst and the cost of the lost generating capacity is a pittance, and yet TVA demanded the people pay for something they had taken from the people in the first place.

R. Neal's picture

I know way too much about

I know way too much about the Ocoee Dams

Tell us more!

R. Neal's picture

All of this reminded me of

All of this reminded me of this blast from the past...

To: TVA, From: God, Re: My river
SK Bubba, 7/17/2002 10:05:23 AM - Boulder damages TVA flume; whitewater rafters may benefit

A boulder that broke loose and smashed a Tennessee Valley Authority flume on the Ocoee River could turn out to be an economic splash for commercial rafting companies.

"There will temporarily be more water for rafting," said TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci.

TVA used the flume to divert water from the Ocoee for generating electricity on Tuesdays and Wednesday. But with the flume out of commission, rafting could be available seven days a week at least temporarily, TVA officials said. Hours for rafting on the other five days also could expand.

Sometimes mankind, and even TVA, needs to be reminded of their station in the universe lest we become too arrogant and self-important. In this case of sweet irony, TVA is served up a little reminder that they can't mess with Mother Nature and get away with it all the time, and maybe a little message from upstairs ("And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.").

Of course, it may have just been some yahoo rafters or outfitters with a stick or two of stolen dynamite, or even George Hayduke and the Monkey Wrench Gang. We may never know. But then again, they say God works in mysterious ways.

At any rate, it seems like appropriate payback for TVA for this:


In October, when American Whitewater hosts the Teva Whitewater National Championships on the Upper Ocoee River Olympic Course, it may well be the last event ever held at this premier whitewater venue. After the national championships, unless event organizers or local outfitters pay to have water put in the river, the $26 million Ocoee Whitewater Center, built with public funds for the 1996 Olympics, will sit on a dry river bed.

A five year agreement developed at the time of the Olympics, in which the Tennessee Valley Authority agreed to provide water for competitions each of those five years, has expired. This year’s National Championships would not be taking place if a slalom event in 2001 hadn’t been canceled because of the September 11 tragedy, leaving "event days" of water available for use this year. The TVA has laid claim to the water and will not release it unless paid at a cost event organizers find prohibitive.

For the Upper Ocoee, however, the TVA is holding the river’s water hostage, demanding user fees that run in the neighborhood of $262,000 for 20 days of recreational use water.

WhitesCreek's picture

That's great stuff, Randy

I was there for most of the fight to get water for events. Our savior was the late great Johnny Hayes, who just walked in the door at Dagger one day and said, "Educate me about this stuff." We talked, he listened, and the Olympics happened on the Ocoee. Ok, It was more complicated than that, but we had a TVA Director who had a broader vision than just delivering the watts.

Oh Johnny, Where are you now that we really need you?

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

TN Progressive

TN Politics

Knox TN Today

Local TV News

News Sentinel

State News

Local .GOV

Wire Reports

Lost Medicaid Funding

To date, the failure to expand Medicaid/TennCare has cost the State of Tennessee ? in lost federal funding. (Source)

Search and Archives