NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 17, 2019) – An international team from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam visited the Tennessee and Cumberland River Systems last week at the invitation of the United States in support of water development in the Lower Mekong River Basin.
The U.S. State Department sponsored the sharing of information with members of the Lower Mekong Initiative June 10-14. They met with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge; Tennessee Valley Authority officials in Knoxville and Chattanooga; and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District officials in Chattanooga and Nashville.
These federal agencies partnered together throughout the week to highlight how the U.S. manages its waterways as environmental stewards in support of flood risk reduction, generation of hydroelectricity, navigation, water quality, water storage, and other purposes such as recreation.
Officials gave a Waterpower Program overviewof the DOE Water Power Technologies Program, discussed the environmental reporting mandates for federal hydropower, and toured the Aquatic Ecology Lab and Manufacturing Demonstration Facility June 10. They received a briefing at TVA June 11 on the River and Reservoir Compliance Monitoring Program and learned about water quality monitoring tools used to evaluate and forecast water quality. TVA also highlighted its water management operations with a tour of the River Forecast Center.
The group then visited Chickamauga Lock and the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project June 12 where Project Manager Adam Walker gave an update of ongoing construction of the new navigation lock, and Lockmaster Cory Richardson talked about operations of the old lock and the issues with maintaining it.
A concrete aggregate problem causes structural concerns at the existing 60-foot by 360-foot lock. It is being replaced by a new 110-foot by 600-foot lock that will improve efficiency, and solve the structural issues caused by the concrete aggregate.
Many of the LMI participants commented how much they enjoyed seeing the existing lock and the riverbed in the coffer dam where preparations are underway to begin placing concrete in the near future.
“They seemed very interested in the technical aspects of the project as well as the mechanisms in place to provide funding from year to year to keep the project moving forward,” Walker said.
Lt. Col. Cullen Jones, Nashville District commander, welcomed the contingent to Nashville June 13. He explained how the district operates and maintains 14 navigation locks on the Tennessee River in partnership with TVA, and also owns and operates 10 multipurpose dams within the Cumberland River Basin, including nine hydropower plants with 28 units.
“All that occurs through communication,” Jones stressed. “Communication is key. As we go through and manage this river system and these 10 multipurpose projects, it is in coordination at multiple levels both internally and externally.”
Jones noted that the region just experienced the wettest winter in recorded history. The coordination up the chain of command and with partners such as TVA, National Weather Service and state and local emergency management agencies increased as the Nashville District operated its projects to manage holding and releasing water throughout the high-water event, he said.
“We’re also coordinating directly with local and state officials ranging from the city mayors to county judge executives so that everyone has a common operating picture of what we’re doing and how we’re balancing all those authorized purposes. As we balance authorized purposes and as situations change, sometimes hard decisions have to be made,” Jones explained. “And those hard decisions are made easier when we have that good communication across our team of teams.”
After the colonel’s presentation and emphasis on the role of communication in managing dam projects, several Nashville District members provided the LMI group with more in-depth insight into water management.
Randy Kerr, hydraulic engineer, provided a detailed overview of the Cumberland River System, and Brantley Thames, civil engineer, demonstrated how water managers use the Corps Water Management System and Real Time Simulation in daily operations of the projects.
The group culminated its visit to the Nashville District with a tour of the Old Hickory Dam Power Plant, where Corps employees operate and maintain four hydropower units, and where one unit is currently being rehabilitated as part of a $1.2 billion project for non-routine maintenance and modernization of the district’s power units and hydroelectric generation equipment across the Cumberland River Basin.
Will Garner, senior hydropower plant operator, showed the group a recently-removed hydropower rotor sitting in the gallery as part of the ongoing rehabilitation work. He also guided them through the powerhouse to see the other hydropower units and explained how they are operated and maintained.
Palakorn Chanbanyong, hydropower specialist from Thailand with the Mekong River Commission Secretariat in Laos, said he works with the member countries on developing the river system. He said the visit to Old Hickory and other projects is helpful because the team gets to learn from experienced people across many specialties.
“It’s a very good chance for me to learn more about this in order to adapt (it) to our Mekong regions,” Chanbanyong said. “If we just stick with the technology that we have right now it might not be advanced enough.”
He noted that it’s good to see how the U.S. manages these waterways and projects, including the operations and maintenance phases.
Dr. Boualem Hadjerioua, workshop lead and water resources engineer for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Environmental Sciences Division, said the visits to the projects in Tennessee demonstrated how U.S. government agencies, such as TVA and USACE, work together with communication and monitoring to manage big river systems such as the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and their tributary reservoirs, respectively.
He said the countries and delegates represented on this visit all share parts of the Lower Mekong River and its tributaries, and they are closely partnering through this initiative to operate the basin as a system.
For more information about LMI, go to https://www.lowermekong.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/lowermekong/.
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