Boone Community Q + A
TVA has opened a dialogue with members the Boone Lake community. This is list of the questions they've asked, and the best answers we have to date.
Topic: Dam Safety
When was this problem discovered?
In October 2014, TVA’s Boone Dam employees discovered a sinkhole along the earthen embankment near the base of Boone Dam. This sinkhole was repaired, but shortly thereafter TVA inspectors discovered sediment and water seeping from the river bank just below the dam. Because this kind of seepage is not common and can be a sign of more serious issues, TVA quickly accelerated its winter drawdown. As a safety measure, the Boone Lake was lowered to about 10 feet below its normal winter pool levels to reduce pressure on the dam.
In early February 2015, TVA—in consultation with other dam safety experts—met to help quantify risks, confirm analyses and guide its actions. After that meeting, TVA announced that Boone Lake would not be returned to normal operating levels until the source of the seepage could be identified and a solution implemented.
Is Boone Dam safe?
With the lake at its current level, Boone Dam is structurally sound. TVA continuously monitors the dam and surrounding structures so that we’ll know if there are changes in its condition.
Why didn’t the dam safety program find this problem?
Actually, it did. Plant employees trained to identify dam safety issues—part of the overall dam safety program—were the first to identify this issue.
Will what happened at Boone happen at other TVA dams?
TVA has a robust dam safety program with comprehensive inspections and monitoring. We’re also performing “health checks” on all 49 dams to thoroughly analyze their conditions.
Have other TVA dams had the same issue as Boone?
Yes. At other dams with seepage in the past, the source has been identified and the dams have been successfully repaired. Those include TVA’s Tims Ford, Bear Creek and Little Bear Creek Dams. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Wolf Creek Dam had similar issues, which were repaired in 2013.
What can you do to guarantee this will not happen in the future?
While no one can guarantee zero future risk, the construction of a composite seepage barrier will minimize risk as much as possible. We recognize our responsibility to maintain and operate all of our facilities in a way that protects the health and safety of the public. In addition to regular maintenance, we have monitoring and assessment programs in place to quickly identify any potential issues in their earliest stages, which will allow us to correct them as quickly, effectively and safely as we can.
How will people be notified if the dam fails?
In the highly unlikely event that a TVA dam were to fail, there are Emergency Action Plans in place to quickly notify response personnel and alert the public. TVA works with counties, states, the National Weather Service and a host of other partners to prepare for such an event. Boone Dam is monitored 24/7 by highly trained engineers. This provides TVA the ability to react to changing conditions day and night. If any of the monitoring signals an event, TVA will immediately notify the affected counties to begin evacuations, and the National Weather Service to broadcast a Dam Failure Flood Warning to the public.
Topic: Boone Dam Seepage
What is really happening at the embankment? What’s the root cause?
The natural karst geology of the area has allowed water to gradually erode the foundation soils over time, creating additional pathways for groundwater in and under the embankment. If left uncorrected, this erosion could eventually undermine the foundation of the embankment and lead to the failure of the dam.
Why wasn’t the dam built correctly to begin with?
In dealing with the complexities of karst geology, Boone Dam was constructed using the best construction methods available in the early 1950s. Over time, foundation soils under the embankment have slowly eroded causing water pathways to develop. The proposed repair will prevent further erosion.
Topic: Boone Project Timing
Why has it taken nine months to come up with a plan?
The situation at Boone was more complex than we originally thought. To ensure the correct long-term fix, our experts needed time to fully investigate the situation, analyze data and consult with industry experts to determine the best solution.
What work has been done at Boone?
Here are a few completed and ongoing actions:
- Filled and repaired initial sinkhole along earthen embankment
- Installed advanced instrumentation
- Placed temporary filter along the riverbank near Boone Dam’s Unit 1 to help control soil erosion and to capture sediment
- Deployed an unmanned, remotely-operated submarine (with sonar technology) to assess underwater conditions
- Drilled core samples to study earthen embankment and foundation conditions
- Used radar and geophysical instruments to determine underground and underwater conditions
- Collaborated with industry experts from around the world to thoroughly analyze the situation
- Placed safety buoys in designated areas of Boone Lake
- Monitoring earthen embankment stability using lasers
You say 5 or up to 7 years to do this job. How long is this job really going to take?
Once an environmental review is complete, we hope to complete the project in five years, but it could take up to 7 years. We will have a better idea of the total project time once the first stages are complete.
When will work begin?
Preliminary work is already underway. The first construction phase will begin in early 2016 after the completion of an environmental review.
Why can’t you begin work sooner?
We have already performed extensive underground investigations and we are preparing the site to ensure we can move forward as safely and quickly as possible. We must also conduct a formal environmental assessment before beginning major construction of this magnitude.
Topic: Boone Lake Levels
Will the water be down for the entire length of the project?
For safety purposes the lake levels will remain at lower levels. However, project engineers will evaluate the potential of raising the water, if possible, throughout the course of the project.
Can TVA temporarily raise the lake levels for owners to remove their boats?
We need to keep the lake level low. Our investigation determined multiple pathways for water to cause erosion under the foundation of the earthen embankment. The lower water level is the safe and prudent thing to do to maintain the stability of the dam. Safety is our number one priority.
How low is the reservoir now?
Boone Reservoir is currently between 1,350 and 1,355 feet above sea level, and about 10 feet below normal winter pool, though reservoir levels could vary if conditions change.
Why are you keeping it at this elevation?
As a prudent and conservative measure to maximize the safety of those living downstream, TVA has lowered the level of the Boone Reservoir to about 10 feet below normal winter pool elevations, which both reduces the hydrostatic pressure on the dam and reduces the volume of water that would be released in the unlikely event of a dam failure.
What is the real impact to those living downstream of Boone Dam?
If the erosion of the embankment were to continue and the dam were to fail, the impact downstream would be significant. Homes, businesses and recreational areas would be flooded and thousands of lives would be placed in danger. It is for these reasons that we must maintain lower reservoir levels while we safely correct the seepage problem.
Do you expect it to be lowered further or possibly drained?
Not at this time, but as we get into the project, we will continue to monitor the downstream risks and adjust accordingly.
Topic: Boone Project Costs
How much will this cost?
Our early estimates are a project cost between $200 and 300 million. We will have a better idea of costs after the first stages of the project are complete.
Will it cost as much as the Kingston cleanup?
With an initial estimate of $200 to 300 million, we anticipate the cost of the Boone project to be considerably less than the Kingston cleanup.
Who will pay for this?
TVA effectively manages its normal operating budget to provide for such unexpected projects, so there should be no significant impact to ratepayers.
Why doesn’t TVA request additional money from the federal government to make this go faster?
TVA does not receive taxpayer funding. We are a federal corporation with an operating budget funded through our electricity sales. The time needed to completed this repair is not a funding issue.
Topic: Community Impacts
How can my company bid on contracts associated with the Boone Dam project?
TVA welcomes local suppliers to participate in any potential upcoming procurements to support work at Boone Dam. We are still preparing the project procurement documents, but we encourage firms who may be interested in working with us to register on TVA’s Supplier’s Connection portal. Click on Potential Supplier Registration, which provides a step-by-step walkthrough of the registration process.
TVA issues purchase orders and contracts only to firms who are registered through this website, so if you think your firm could provide goods or services to TVA at Boone Dam (or any other TVA site), please register now.
In addition, all suppliers who provide services onsite are required to be registered in good standing on ISNetworld, which maintains safety, insurance, quality and regulatory information on contractors. You may register with them free of charge at isnetworld.com.
What should I plant along the shoreline to deter erosion?
To deter erosion on the exposed shoreline at Boone, property owners can sow annual rye grass. This variety tends to germinate quickly, even during cooler fall temperatures. The rye grass should provide a good ground cover that will last through the winter months. Next spring, a longer-term solution would be to use one or more of the following types of native vegetation: switchgrass, little bluestem, Indiangrass, cardinal flower, coneflower, sunflower or milkweed. All of these varieties will provide effective erosion control with lower maintenance requirements and will not create any navigational hazards when water levels return to normal on Boone.
Is TVA going to help control the vegetation growing on exposed shoreline?
While TVA works with state and local agencies to find the safest and best long-term solution to weeds and trees growing on the shoreline, property owners are free to mow or physically remove grass and vegetation on their own land. Remember that the exposed shoreline may have rocks and holes, so go slow and keep safety as your top priority.
What effects will the sustained drawdown have on water quality and fish habitats?
With the lower water levels at Boone Lake, some of our neighbors have raised questions about the potential effect of the sustained drawdown on water quality and fish habitats. While it is true that the level of lake is lower than normal, the amount of water flowing through Boone is the same. On average, 2,000 to 2,500 cubic feet of water—or 15,000 to 18,700 gallons—flow through every second. Some of this water comes from upstream on the South Holston River and some flows directly into Boone from numerous creeks and tributaries when it rains. This fresh flow keeps water quality high for both humans and fish, even if the water in the lake isn’t up to its normal level.
TVA works with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to closely monitor the overall health of the lake. You can monitor the status of the lake here.
Is TVA going to buy my house and/or property?
We do not have any plans to purchase property. We are committed to fixing the earthen embankment as quickly and safely as possible. See page 71 of the July 30 public meeting transcript.
You bought houses after the Kingston event. Why won’t you consider buying houses at Boone?
The houses purchased at Kingston were directly damaged by the ash spill or were impacted by the 24/7 heavy equipment activities associated with the remediation. While we understand that homeowners access to Boone Lake will be impacted during the project, there is no physical damage to homes as a result.
Is TVA going to help me get my boat off my lift?
We understand your concern and we are actively looking into methods of helping with that to limit potential damage to docks, covers or the boats themselves.
How many boats are stranded?
TVA has completed a visual survey of boats on lifts and there are approximately 200.
Can Boone Lake property owners deny individuals the right to cross the dry lake area if the owner owns property rights that extend into the lake to the original stream or river flow area?
The majority of Boone Lake properties (above and below water) are privately owned, and TVA has obtained flowage rights. Unless TVA has reserved rights for the public, crossing private property is generally a civil matter and may involve private trespass issues. Local law enforcement may need to be involved. Property owners should be reminded that, if they decide to use certain measures to prevent trespassing (i.e., signage, fencing, etc.), those measures could become subject to TVA’s Section 26a regulations, which require TVA approval be obtained before any construction or other alterations are carried out that affect navigation, flood control or public lands along the shoreline of TVA lakes or in the Tennessee River or its tributaries.
I heard you’re helping the marinas financially. Why are you doing something for marina owners and not the boat or homeowners? What about other business owners (restaurants, gas stations) affected by the lack of traffic on the lake?
We recognize that many are impacted by the lower water levels, but marina owners in particular gain their primary income from the lake. We are working on other ways to help the community and we’ll share that information with you as soon as we can.
What are the details of the loans you are providing to marina owners?
TVA is implementing a pilot program to offer loans to those marina’s directly impacted by the lower water levels. The specific details of amounts, interest rates and repayment plans are based on a number of factors that detail sensitive business and financial data from the applicants so, out of respect for their privacy, we can not provide additional information.
With the lower reservoir levels for the next 5 to 7 years, could my requirement for flood insurance be eliminated?
No. Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and are based on the one-percent annual chance flood—a flood that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. Although we know that the lower water levels on Boone impact local residents in several ways, these lake levels are temporary, and FIRMs are not updated to reflect temporary conditions. This policy has been consistently applied in other temporary periods of lake drawdowns, such as seen recently at Center Hill Lake or Lake Cumberland. In addition, a particularly severe rain or flooding event could cause Boone to rapidly rise many feet even as TVA would be using every available measure to maintain the current operating range, so although flooding may be less likely with the current lower levels, it is still possible.
Will there be other water access areas set up?
At this time, we are working to improve or create three access areas: expanding the current boat ramp at Pickens Bridge, installing a new ramp at Devault Bridge and creating a new swim beach and boat ramp just northeast of the dam on a plot of TVA land we call “22R.”
How is TVA working with residential Boone Lake property owners to provide reasonable access during the drawdown?
TVA will consider all requests for temporary and/or permanent dock facilities on Boone Lake to provide back-lying residential property owners the opportunity to access the lake during the drawdown. A Section 26a permit application should be submitted to TVA for any proposed construction along the shoreline. TVA will waive application fees associated with processing the 26a applications for these proposed improvements.
How do I contact TVA for Dock Permits?
Boone Lake area residents looking to move or build docks can find complete information on TVA’s website on our Shoreline Construction page. You can also call (423) 467-3801 for help.
Additional details on sample small construction project drawings, etc., are available on our Minor Construction Projects page. The regulations governing lake access may be found at Section 26a Regulations.
Am I allowed to use a metal detector on TVA land, or collect artifacts from TVA land?
In order to preserve our cultural resources, the use of metal detectors on TVA property is prohibited. Read more about TVA's policy.
Will there be local jobs available?
Once the primary contractor is in place, we anticipate some local sub-contractors and suppliers will be used. TVA will follow the project maintenance and modification agreement that is in place between TVA and the unions comprising the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council. The Council is composed of the following International Unions:
- International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers
- International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers
- International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers
- United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
- Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers
- Laborers’ International Union of North America
- International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
- International Union of Operating Engineers
- International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades
- United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada
- United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers
- Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association
- International Brotherhood of Teamsters
In addition, any contract personnel are likely to take advantage of local hotels, restaurants and stores, creating additional economic activity in the community.
Topic: Involvement of Other Organizations
What entity will be the watchdog for TVA’s work here?
The TVA Independent Dam Safety Review Board, consisting of experts in dam safety and operation from across the country, will be actively monitoring the work on Boone Dam, along with TVA Dam Safety Governance and Oversight and the TVA Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Is the EPA involved?
The EPA is not involved. However, TVA follows the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, which dictates environmental compliance for federal agencies.
Is the Corps of Engineers helping with this work?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been serving in an advisory role during the investigation, along with other dam owners in the U.S.
What about the quality of the water at Boone? How is that being monitored?
We work with TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) to monitor water quality.
What will happen to fish habitat?
TVA fisheries biologists are working with TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) to monitor the fish habitat at Boone. Currently we don’t anticipate any impacts.
Topic: Community Updates
How will you update the community?
We are committed to keeping the community informed. For weekly updates, sign up for the Boone Update Emails and follow the project on Twitter @BooneRepair. The project team is also available for speaking engagements. As the project progresses, we will also continue to hold regular meetings to update the community on the status of our work.
Where can the public submit suggestions and feedback?
We review and consider all feedback submitted by the public. The best place is to submit your questions or feedback is the Boone Dam Project website.