Taming the Tennessee River was the Tennessee Valley Authority’s first task; the TVA accomplished it by building a system of dams and reservoirs to control flooding and generate power.
In July 2013, rainfall in the Tennessee Valley was the highest since 1967 and the fourth-highest since precipitation record-keeping began in 1890. Chattanooga was spared an estimated $44 million in flood damage thanks to the TVA’s network of dams and reservoirs. However, when the TVA rerouted floodwater to Southwest Tennessee, farmers below the Pickwick Dam suffered massive crop damage.
According to the National Weather Service, rainfall during the first half of 2013 totaled 48 inches–15 inches above normal. When twice the usual amount of rain fell across East Tennessee in July 2013, the TVA projected that the rain-swollen Tennessee River and its tributaries would spill out of their banks and damage many developed properties in Chattanooga’s low-lying areas without dams and storage lakes to hold back the floodwaters. Due to a lack of communication with the farmers in the lower valley, the 2013 flood caused many to lose entire crop yields to standing water in their fields.
The led to a difficult conversation on the courthouse lawn in Savannah. While no one disputed the necessity of protecting populated areas in Eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia, the affected farmers and landowners sought improved communication between themselves and TVA management.
Learning from its mistakes, the TVA has doubled its efforts to minimize crop damage in the Tennessee Valley while also protecting businesses and dwellings upriver. Moreover, the Savannah meeting led to the development of the Tennessee Valley Farmers (TVF), which represents McNairy, Hardin, Wayne and Decatur counties.
On July 21, the TVF held a luncheon to discuss upcoming projects and plans and met with Allen Clare, Vice President of River Resource Management and Operations.
“I will tell you, farmers, your reputation proceeds you. I always heard good things, and I realize that our relationship has come through some challenges. On the way over here, I was reminded of the areas where the flood of 2013 caused some issues. Believe me, when there is any forecast of rain, I think of Hardin County as well as the rest of the valley,” assured Clare.
“This relationship is important to us. You are why we are here and why TVA was put in place. It was for reasons exactly like this: to make sure we are doing everything we can to improve the quality of life for the residential Tennessee Valley; and a big part of that is managing this river, which, as you know, can be challenging, but it is our duty.
“We are reminded daily of our mission and how important it is,” Clare continued. “Groups like you that we get to interface with are just another reminder of why it is so important. As I walk into Hagy’s Catfish Hotel–and was told that I would have been walking in waist-high water recently–I am in awe that the memorabilia was saved and [to] see the richness of the this building and the county.”
Clare thanked everyone present for offering him such a warm welcome and for continuing to be ideal partners. He lauded the TVA and TVF for prioritizing communication and for rallying around a common objective to raise the standard of life for Tennessee Valley residents.
“TVA was put in place to manage this river, to harness the power of the river and to continue to grow our valley. Service is what attracted me to TVA and the mission,” affirmed Clare.
Clare has worked in the industry for 33 years and joined the TVA five years ago. Since then, he has held responsibilities for TVA police, natural resources, river management, real estate and dam safety. The TVA owns 104 dams across the valley, including 88 river dams.
Clare concluded by reemphasizing the necessity of proper communication, especially when emergencies like flooding arise.
“We try to make a living down here in the valley and appreciate the knowledge and experience.
There are times that mother nature places challenges for TVA, causing barriers to preventing flooding along the riverbeds and into agricultural farmland,” added Karl Farsbach, Tennessee Valley farmer and President of the TVF.
Representatives of the TVF provide regular agricultural updates at TVA board meetings. The formation and actions of the TVF offers a model for what public and private interactions should be.