US Army Corps of Engineers
Nashville District

District Digest News Stories

Music City mayor notes fascination of Old Hickory Dam in operation

Nashville District Public Affairs
Published March 20, 2019
USACE photo by Mark Rankin

Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, briefs Nashville Mayor David Briley March 15, 2019 during a tour of the Old Hickory Dam Power Plant on the Cumberland River in Hendersonville, Tenn.

USACE photo by Mark Rankin

Joe Conatser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Old Hickory Power Plant superintendent, gives Nashville Mayor David Briley an overview of plant operations during a tour of the facility in Hendersonville, Tenn., March. 15, 2019. The mayor learned about how the Corps of Engineers generates hydroelectric power at its projects in the Cumberland River Basin.

USACE photo by Mark Rankin

Joe Conatser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Old Hickory Power Plant superintendent, explains powerhouse operations to Nashville Mayor David Briley on a tour of the facility in Hendersonville, Tenn., March. 15, 2019. The mayor learned about how the Corps of Engineers generates hydroelectric power at its projects in the Cumberland River Basin.

USACE photo by Mark Rankin

Joe Conatser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Old Hickory Power Plant superintendent, explains powerhouse operations to Nashville Mayor David Briley on a tour of the facility in Hendersonville, Tenn., March. 15, 2019. The mayor learned about how the Corps of Engineers generates hydroelectric power at its projects in the Cumberland River Basin.

USACE photo by Mark Rankin

Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, briefs Nashville Mayor David Briley March 15, 2019 during a tour of the Old Hickory Dam Power Plant on the Cumberland River in Hendersonville, Tenn.

OLD HICKORY, Tenn. (Mar. 15, 2019) – The mayor of Music City visited Old Hickory

Dam today to see the power plant, navigation lock, and water releases, and noted how fascinating it is to see it in operation.

“I’m glad I had this opportunity to see this massive structure,” said Nashville Mayor David Briley as he toured a hydropower turbine.  “This is simply amazing and you just have to see it to believe it.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District officials welcomed Briley and Scott Potter, director of Nashville's Metro Water Services, for the tour, and briefed them on the district’s missions, which include flood risk management, navigation, hydropower, emergency management, and recreation.

Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, Nashville District commander, explained to the mayor how the Corps operates 10 dams and reservoirs within the Cumberland River Basin as a system and that they performed as designed during the wettest February on record.  The commander stressed that the district’s dams saved an estimated $1.72 billion in would-be flood damage to the region.

Jones said the Nashville District enjoys a great relationship and partnership with the mayor and Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

“I thought the mayor’s visit went well.  It was a great opportunity for the mayor to see the project and to learn about local recreation areas, flood risk management, and the system of projects across the entire Cumberland River Basin,” Jones said.

Skeeter Deskins, lockmaster at Old Hickory Lock, explained the day-to-day operations at the lock and how the Tennessee-Cumberland Rivers System is a major part of the nationwide network of waterways that are crucial to day-to-day commerce of the United States. He also explained how commercial and recreational vessels navigate up and down the Cumberland River through Old Hickory Dam.

Tavis Hanley, Nashville District’s Nashville Area operations manager, and Anthony Rodino, Nashville District Water Management Section chief, led Briley across Old Hickory Dam and provided him additional details of the district’s navigation, flood risk management, and hydropower missions.

The mayor walked across the navigation lock gate, stopped to watch the dam’s spilling operations and then spent time in the hydropower plant and its control room. 

Joseph Conatser, Power Plant superintendent, provided a safety brief and gave an introduction of maintenance tools and gear used at the power plant. He explained how water from the reservoir enters gate-controlled intakes, rotates the turbines, spins the turbines and produces the electric current.

Conatser also described the day-to-day power plant operations and the function of three large General Electric generators used for hydropower generation.  The group toured several floors, stopped to look at rehabilitation work on a power generator, large rotator assembly, and looked at a turbine shaft and other major components.

Jones said he explained to the mayor how dams like Cordell Hull, Old Hickory, and Cheatham, which are classified as "run of the river" projects, passed along rainfall runoff over the past several months.  The commander also explained how larger reservoirs like Lake Cumberland, Dale Hollow, Center Hill, and J. Percy Priest Lakes held back water where possible to reduced impacts in Nashville by as much as 16 feet, preventing $1.5 billion of damage that would have resulted from higher water.  

The water level on the Cumberland River in Music City reached 40.93 feet with projects operating, but would have reached an estimated 57.2 feet if the storage projects upstream were not in existence.  It would have exceeded the May 2010 event by nearly five feet and exceeded the flood of record in 1927 by nearly a foot.

The National Weather Service indicated that most of the state of Tennessee received record amounts of rainfall in February.   Nashville had 13.47 inches of rain, surpassing the previous record of 12.37 set in 1880. 

The mayor’s briefing really highlighted how the damage would have been greater in Nashville had the Corps' projects not been in place. He received an update on current water management operations to draw down storage reservoirs and pass water down the Cumberland River to position the system for more rainfall expected during the rainy season in March and April.

“It was great for Mayor Briley to understand how we operate this river and see the benefits it brings,” said Jones. “He saw firsthand how we make water useful here for our navigation mission, hydropower mission, recreation mission and water supply. We are here to help protect people from water, water from people and make water useful.”

Jones discussed the importance of communication between state and local counties, and highlighted how these partnerships have served to prepare for future water events.  This includes the Corps’ partnering with the city of Nashville on the Situational Awareness for Flooding Events (SAFE) program, an internal mapping tool to help Metro better predict when and where flooding will occur to make decisions.

As the tour concluded, Briley said it’s clear that the Corps of Engineers plays an important role with flood mitigation in Nashville to make sure the river is at the appropriate levels while being mindful of what is going on upstream and downstream of the city.

“It’s great to talk to the folks in Nashville about how the dams fit into their lives and to let people know that we are safe,” said Briley. “The Corps is doing a great job at protecting us from floodwaters, generating power and providing recreation.  Being out here at Old Hickory Dam reminds me that our waterways play such an important role.  It’s recreational, but it’s also moving a lot of the barges that come through, and anything on a barge takes things off of our highways and reduces our traffic.”

Jones said it is an honor to host Mayor Briley for the tour to ensure that he knows that if he has any questions about the Corps of Engineers or its projects, that he is just a phone call away.

(For news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District go to the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can follow Mayor David Briley on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MayorDavidBriley/.)