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Frequently Asked Questions About Water Supply

Water intake permits

Why do I need a permit from TVA for a water intake?

What permits do I need from TVA for a water intake?

If I get a permit from TVA, do I still need to get other permits?

Who do I talk to if I have questions?

How long does it take to get a 26a permit?

How much does a 26a permit cost?

What type of information do I need to supply when requesting a water intake permit?

Can I put a water intake anywhere?

How much water can I withdraw?

If I want to use a small portable pump to water my garden, do I need a permit?

Can TVA guarantee that my intake will always be covered by water?

Are there any requirements for a discharge line from a water treatment plant?

What type of environmental reviews do TVA and other agencies conduct for water intake requests?

Will my intake be inspected by TVA?

Does TVA need to know how much water my intake withdraws each year?

Intake water quality

If there is an emergency spill and/or there are hazardous chemicals in the water, will I be notified so I can stop my withdrawal until the danger passes?

How do I know if the water I get from my water supplier meets drinking water regulations?

What are disinfection by-products, and why are they a concern?

What is cryptosporidium?

How can I protect and improve the water that supplies my intake?

Interbasin transfers

What is the concern with transfers of water from one river basin to another?

What is TVA’s position on the interbasin transfer of water out of the Tennessee River basin?

Isn’t Tennessee River water already being transferred out of the river basin to serve as potable supplies for municipalities?

Since TVA is responsible for managing the Tennessee River system, what action is TVA taking to ensure that sufficient water will be available to meet the water supply needs of residents within the TVA region in the future?

If water is transferred outside the Tennessee River system and not returned to it, isn’t there a loss of hydropower generation at downstream dams?

Other questions

What is consumptive loss?

What are some things I can do to conserve water?


Water intake permits

Why do I need a permit from TVA for a water intake?

Section 26a of the TVA Act requires that TVA approval be obtained before any construction activities can be carried out that affect navigation, flood control, or public lands along the shoreline of TVA-managed reservoirs or in the Tennessee River or its tributaries.

Learn more about Section 26a permits.

What permits do I need from TVA for a water intake?

A Section 26a permit is required for water intake requests that involve locating a structure in the Tennessee River or any tributary river in the Tennessee River Watershed. Locating a structure on TVA reservoirs may require conveyance of land rights from TVA, which requires specific approval by the TVA Board of Directors.

Apply for a 26a permit here.

If I get a permit from TVA, do I still need to get other permits?

Other permit approvals are likely to be required. These include U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 and Section 10 permits and state water quality certification Section 401 permits.

Read more about Section 26a permits and find a link to your state's water quality office.

Who do I talk to if I have questions?

General water supply questions should be directed to Gary Springston (423-751-7336) or Chuck Bohac (423-751-7319) at TVA. Questions regarding 26a water intake permit applications should be directed to your local TVA Watershed Team.

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How long does it take to get a 26a permit?

It depends on the complexity of the application and level of environmental review required. On most minor projects that meet construction guidelines, approval typically will be received within 45 days. On major projects where modifications are not required, approvals typically will be received within 90 days. Some projects that are complex or involve substantial environmental or engineering issues may require the preparation of an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement. On these projects, TVA will meet with applicants to determine schedule and costs of project review.

How much does a 26a permit cost?

The cost for permits varies depending on the location of the intake and the extensiveness of associated reviews. Contact one of TVA’s Watershed Teams for more information, or go here.

What type of information do I need to supply when requesting a water intake permit?

View additional information required for 26a water intake requests here.

Can I put a water intake anywhere?

Many factors come into play when determining whether a site is suitable for a water intake. These include, but are not limited to, low flows, archaeological sites, water quality, threatened and endangered species, downstream users, etc. Applicants should contact the appropriate TVA Watershed Team for preliminary information before investing time and money in siting a water intake.

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How much water can I withdraw?

The amount of water that may be withdrawn from a waterbody is dependent upon many factors, including need, low-flow conditions, aquatic habitat, and other environmental conditions. All applications for 26a water-intake permits must include a documented need for the requested volume of water. TVA will review the request and evaluate its associated environmental impacts to determine the appropriate volume of water that can be withdrawn, taking into account factors such as operation of the river system and impact on the river environment.

If I want to use a small portable pump to water my garden, do I need a permit?

Landowners should contact their local TVA Watershed Team for permit requirements.

Can TVA guarantee that my intake will always be covered by water?

TVA does not guarantee that water intakes will always be under water. The amount of water in the Tennessee River system depends partly on how the system is operated but mostly on the amount of rainfall and runoff each year. TVA takes into account the needs of water intake structures when it manages the river system, but the design and location of intakes largely dictate whether or not they may be dewatered. Intake operators should have an emergency plan in place to acquire water in the event water levels drop due to atypical circumstances such as drought or dam maintenance activities.

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Are there any requirements for a discharge line from a water treatment plant?

Yes. A discharge structure requires a permit, just like an intake. In addition, TVA requires that the discharge line operator obtain a permit under the state’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program. The line also must contain a diffuser on the end, be located in the original river channel, and be at least 10 feet below normal winter pool elevation. Depending on the presence of sensitive resources, such as threatened or endangered species, there may be other requirements.

What type of environmental reviews do TVA and other agencies conduct for water intake requests?

Several different federal statutes can dictate what kind of environmental reviews must be undertaken by TVA and other federal agencies before they can approve or permit private intake facilities. These can include evaluations under the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act. The environmental reviews conducted on the state level follow environmental regulatory policies and laws established by that state.

Will my intake be inspected by TVA?

All permitted water intakes are subject to inspection by TVA.

Does TVA need to know how much water my intake withdraws each year?

Yes. Water withdrawal permit holders are required to report annual usage as a condition of their permits, except for small residential irrigation users who are exempt from reporting requirements. This data is used in tracking existing withdrawals and evaluating proposed increases in withdrawals from the Tennessee River system. Click here for a copy of the annual usage reporting form (158 kb, PDF).

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Intake water quality

If there is an emergency spill and/or there are hazardous chemicals in the water, will I be notified so I can stop my withdrawal until the danger passes?

TVA maintains a database for emergency contacts for each water intake. If TVA is notified by local and state agencies that a spill has occurred, our current practice is to try to forward this notice to water intake operators when we have emergency contact numbers for them. However, operators should not rely solely on receiving notice from TVA but should also ensure that the appropriate local and state officials know how to contact them. Intake operators should be sure to notify TVA when their emergency contact information changes.

How do I know if the water I get from my water supplier meets drinking water regulations?

By July 1 each year, your water supplier should mail you a short report explaining where your water comes from and what is in it. Some suppliers also post a copy of this report on their Web site. For more information, contact your local water supplier.

What are disinfection by-products, and why are they a concern?

Disinfection by-products (DBPs) form when chlorine or other disinfectants react with the organic material (from decomposed leaves and other vegetation) naturally found in drinking water sources. The two classes of DBPs usually measured in drinking water are trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. Many DBPs have been shown to cause cancer and reproductive or developmental effects in animal studies. The level of DBPs permitted in drinking water is regulated by EPA and monitored by water treatment plants. To inquire about DBPs, contact your local water supplier.

What is cryptosporidium?

Cryptosporidium is a one-celled parasite that can cause a gastrointestinal illness called cryptosporidiosis. The parasite is commonly found in lakes and rivers, especially when the water is contaminated with sewage and animal wastes. Cryptosporidium is very resistant to disinfection, and in many cases even a well-operated water treatment system cannot ensure that drinking water will be completely free of this parasite. For more information about cryptosporidium outbreaks in your area and other potential pathogens, contact your loacal health department.

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How can I protect and improve the water that supplies my intake?

There are many locally led efforts throughout the TVA region to improve water quality conditions in reservoirs, rivers and streams. To learn more about these efforts, you can contact your TVA Watershed Team or your state’s water quality regulatory agency.

Interbasin transfers

What is the concern with transfers of water from one river basin to another?

Water transferred from rivers via interbasin transfers can upset the established balance of water uses upstream and downstream. Interbasin transfers also can impact the overall ecological health of the donor and receiving systems. Any proposed transfers need to be carefully scrutinized to ensure the long-term sustainability of the water resource as well as the protection of public health, safety and the environment. Impacts from an interbasin transfer can occur not only at the extraction point but in tributary reservoirs or streams hundreds of miles away.

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What is TVA’s position on the interbasin transfer of water out of the Tennessee River basin?

TVA’s primary interest is ensuring that it is able to carry out its mandated responsibility for managing the Tennessee River system, including maintaining the balance of beneficial uses of the Tennessee River (i.e., navigation, flood damage reduction, water supply, power generation, aquatic life and recreation). Any water transfers that have the potential to alter the current system balance or impact the ecological health of the donor or receiving water body would be carefully evaluated by TVA, states and stakeholders within the TVA region before the transfers would be allowed.

As a regional development agency, TVA designed and operates the integrated power and river system to support the sustainable economic development of the Tennessee Valley region. For that reason, TVA continues to work with communities within the Valley region to help meet their local water supply needs. It should be recognized, however, that every river or stream has a finite carrying capacity in terms of being able to support continued economic growth and development within a region while protecting the ecosystem and other beneficial uses provided by the system. Transfers of large quantities of water outside the region therefore have the potential to impact future growth within the region, as well as other benefits provided by the system. The severity of the impacts would depend on when and where the transfers occurred.

Isn’t Tennessee River water already being transferred out of the river basin to serve as potable supplies for municipalities?

Yes. Water transfers for potable supplies are already taking place. A number of water supply utilities lie on or very near the Tennessee River basin boundary. Along these fringe areas, water is transferred into or out of the basin depending on water suppliers’ local service territories. The net effect of water going out of the basin versus water coming into the basin from these transfers is minimal.

Since TVA is responsible for managing the Tennessee River system, what action is TVA taking to ensure that sufficient water will be available to meet the water supply needs of residents within the TVA region in the future?

TVA has recently inventoried all the current water supply extraction points within the basin to determine how much water is being used daily. The results indicated that more than 12 billion gallons of water are extracted daily. Of this, TVA estimates that approximately 97 percent is returned to the basin for further downstream uses. Water currently transferred out of the basin via pipelines for water supply purposes amounts to about 4 mgd, or about 0.03 percent of the total water extracted daily from the system.

 As a result of anticipated requests for more and larger interbasin transfers via pipelines traversing longer distances, TVA has instituted the following requirements associated with water supply and interbasin transfer requests:        

  • All permit requests must be accompanied by a needs analysis demonstrating the need for the amount of water requested.
  • The state government in which an interbasin withdrawal is to occur must not object to consideration of the request for an interbasin transfer of water.
  • Since the Tennessee River system is a shared resource, all seven states in the region will be informed of all transfer requests, and a dialogue will be maintained between TVA and the various states during the review process.
  • All interbasin transfers will be assessed as to their impacts on the overall river system, including the location and significance of environmental or operational effects.
  • Each permit will specify limits on the amount of water to be extracted or transferred from the Tennessee River system.
  • Permits will be granted for a finite amount of time, after which they must again be renewed by TVA.
  • Annual reporting to TVA will be required in order that TVA can track trends in overall water extractions and transfers of water from the Tennessee River system.  
  • A condition will be included in all future permits to prohibit the sale, distribution or transfer of water beyond the locally served area referenced in the permit application.
  • A condition will be included in all future permits to prohibit water from the Tennessee River system being used as a replacement for local water that is sold, distributed or transferred outside the local area.

If water is transferred outside the Tennessee River system and not returned to it, isn’t there a loss of hydropower generation at downstream dams?

Yes. Lost hydropower generation as a result of less water passing through downstream turbines must be replaced by more expensive means. Since all of TVA’s operations are now funded by ratepayers in the TVA power service area, all interbasin transfers of water outside the area will require reimbursement to TVA in an amount that recovers the lost hydropower benefits.

Other questions

What is consumptive loss?

Consumptive loss is defined as withdrawals from a river system minus returns to the river system. It is the part of the water withdrawn that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into plants or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment.

What are some things I can do to conserve water?

There are many steps that citizens can take to reduce the unnecessary use of water. These range from fixing a leaky faucet to hiring professionals to conduct water audits of your home or business.

Learn more about how you can conserve water.

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