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TVA River Neighbors
august 2006


TVA Watershed Teams

On the front lines in the fight to control shoreline erosion

This is the fourth in a series of articles highlighting the work of TVA Watershed Teams. These teams perform a variety of functions, which include building partnerships for water-quality improvement, issuing permits for boat docks and other shoreline-construction activities, and managing recreation and natural and cultural resources on public reservoir lands.


The focus is on making improvements in the red zone.

  image of TVA employee  

Ben Bean of TVA’s Guntersville-Tims Ford Watershed Team measures a section of reservoir shoreline as part of a recent stabilization project at Lake Guntersville State Park in Guntersville, Alabama.


While that might sound like a winning strategy for a football team, in this case it means something else entirely. The “red zone” refers to a simple method of categorizing the severity of reservoir shoreline conditions, as evidenced by erosion and lack of vegetation. It’s part of a system that TVA Watershed Teams use to help prioritize stabilization projects.

“We have a process in place to help us direct resources where they can make the most difference,” explains Ben Bean, a member of the Guntersville-Tims Ford Watershed Team. “We refer to critically eroding and denuded shoreline as being in the ‘red zone.’ Our efforts are directed toward finding ways of addressing the situation in order to be able to move those sections of shoreline out of that problem category.”

Shoreline stabilization work is an important part of what TVA Watershed Teams do, says Bean. “We recognize that there are multiple benefits to controlling erosion. It helps water quality by reducing sedimentation. It improves aesthetics. It reduces property loss. It even has an impact on aquatic habitat, since water temperatures are affected by the loss of vegetation along the water’s edge and silt can cover the graveled bottom where fish spawn. This is an important issue to waterfront property owners, and it’s one we are actively addressing — not just because it’s important to stakeholders, but because we see it as part of our commitment to stewardship of the Valley’s resources.”

Bean says it is difficult to generalize when it comes to stabilization work because there are so many different types of projects in which TVA Watershed Teams are involved. “Sometimes we are approached by individuals who are concerned about erosion due to waves from wind and passing boats. Other times, we work in partnership with cities or counties to help stabilize a public-use area that is experiencing erosion. In the majority of cases, our stabilization efforts serve to protect cultural resources through the preservation of archaeological sites along TVA-managed reservoirs.”

Editor’s note: Watershed Teams also work to control erosion along the banks of streams flowing into TVA-managed reservoirs. Look for an article featuring stream-bank stabilization efforts in a future issue of TVA River Neighbors.

Deciding where to work

  image of a shoreline  
  image of a shoreline  

Reservoir shoreline stabilization can make a dramatic difference, as demonstrated by these before-and-after photos taken at the Clinton City Park in Clinton, Tennessee. This partnership project, completed in February 2001, stabilized 1,200 feet of critically eroding shoreline on Melton Hill Reservoir using a combination of rock-filled gabion baskets and rock riprap. The City of Clinton furnished the labor and equipment, while TVA provided the materials and technical guidance. Photos courtesy of Lynn Murphy


Watershed Team members are familiar with shoreline conditions along TVA reservoirs and usually have a good idea of the location of problem areas. They work from a set of established criteria to identify and rank sites where extensive erosion and lack of vegetation result in poor shoreline conditions — locations flagged as red zone sites. Other project sites are identified through the presence of “at-risk resources” — either important archeological resources or sensitive biological resources.

The ability to cost-share has a huge impact on the feasibility of a given project. “If it’s a matter of protecting a culturally significant archaeological site or a biologically sensitive area, partnership potential isn’t a major consideration,” says Bean. “But, in other cases, it really helps to be able to leverage resources — whether that happens to be materials, labor, or financial support.”

Other factors also are considered in prioritizing potential shoreline stabilization projects. For example, sites with rapidly deteriorating conditions are likely to get precedence over locations where erosion has been occurring at a relatively slow rate for many years. Favored locations include those where addressing a significant erosion problem is likely to make a measurable improvement in water quality.

Project implementation

Before beginning a stabilization project, Watershed Teams work with TVA technical experts to identify the best treatment method and determine whether the project is likely to impact navigation, flood damage reduction, cultural resources, or any threatened or endangered species. If the project passes this review, technical drawings are finalized and the necessary permits are secured.

Stabilization techniques vary widely and are directly related to the problem at hand. “It’s certainly true that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” says Bean. “As a rule of thumb, the steepness of the slope determines the method of treatment. Based on our experience, the shallower the slope, the ‘softer’ the treatment. We may have to use rock riprap or rock-filled gabion baskets in locations where a steep bank is in danger of washing away. But we prefer to go with soil bioengineering — using native vegetation along with biodegradable materials — where feasible. There are additional benefits offered by living systems, such as improved habitat, scenic value, and filtering pollutants from runoff. Many projects require a combination of soil bioengineering and hard-armoring.”

There are all kinds of challenges associated with each individual project, according to Bean. “Sometimes timing becomes an issue,” he explains. “Naturally, we try to do most of these projects when reservoir levels are low and access is easiest — usually between October and March. Most of our stabilization work can be accomplished by working from the landward side, but some projects require the use of barges and have to be tackled when the reservoir is at full pool. Sometimes a partner’s participation has to happen within a certain time frame, and of course the weather can always play havoc with our plans. A major rain event can quickly raise reservoir levels and make a site inaccessible.”

A decade of progress

TVA Watershed Teams have been involved in successfully treating over 64 miles of critically eroding shorelines in the past 10 years, including projects at 353 different sites on 22 reservoirs. Last year alone, TVA worked on 23 shoreline stabilization projects across the Valley.

Bean takes satisfaction in knowing that these efforts are making a difference. “Whether the goal is to protect an archaeological site from exposure to the elements and from looting, to stabilize a heavily used recreation area that might otherwise be lost to the public, or to improve water quality and wildlife habitat, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re helping to protect locations that are important to Valley citizens.”

Experiencing a problem with shoreline erosion?

Your TVA Watershed Team can help.


Watershed Team members can provide you with information and advice about erosion control methods and give you a list of contractors who perform the type of stabilization work you’re contemplating. They’ll work with you to obtain the necessary permit and waive the standard $200 fee required for a shoreline alteration permit.


TVA’s web site also offers a wealth of information — from creating a landscaping plan that reduces erosion to identifying native plants suitable for your site.


In addition, TVA Watershed Teams hold workshops on erosion control methods and can make presentations to groups such as watershed associations and property owners’ organizations. If you’d like someone from TVA to speak to your group or to provide you with guidance on a stabilization project you’re considering, contact your local TVA Watershed Team.

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Contact your TVA Watershed Team.