Tennessee Valley Authority:

Future Study of Lake Levels Should Involve Public and Consider Costs and Benefits

RCED-99-154: Published: May 17, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) management of its multipurpose tributary projects, focusing on: (1) the purposes served by TVA's multipurpose tributary projects and how TVA operates these projects within its integrated system; (2) the operational changes TVA made to these projects as a result of its December 1990 review of its project operations and the major factors influencing these changes; (3) the actions TVA has taken since the 1990 review to address requests for changes in the way it operates these projects; and (4) TVA's plans for any future changes in the way it operates these projects. GAO is also providing information on a selected update by TVA of its analysis performed in the 1990 review.

GAO noted that: (1) the operation of the multipurpose tributary projects serves several purposes--primarily navigation and flood control, and to the extent consistent with these purposes, hydroelectric power production; (2) these three operating priorities are contained in the TVA Act of 1933; (3) TVA can permit operation of the projects for other purposes; (4) in operating its integrated system, TVA often finds that the multiple purposes served by the projects can conflict or compete with each other; (5) TVA attempts to balance the various purposes served to provide the greatest public benefits from the waters of the Tennessee River and its tributaries while adhering to the operating priorities; (6) a key change resulting from its December 1990 review of project operations was TVA's delaying the annual lake drawdown at the multipurpose tributary projects from Memorial Day to August 1; (7) the major factor influencing this change was that, of the seven alternatives examined in the 1990 review, this alternative had the least impact on TVA's systemwide cost of supplying electric power; (8) all of the alternatives reduced TVA's ability to generate hydroelectric power during periods of peak power demand; (9) TVA estimated that the selected alternative would require replacing some hydroelectric power with power from more expensive generation sources; (10) since the 1990 review, little has changed in how TVA operates its multipurpose tributary projects; (11) because it had been receiving an increasing number of requests to analyze changes in the lake levels for individual lakes, TVA determined that a piecemeal approach raised questions of fairness in how each lake would be treated within TVA's system; (12) therefore, in March 1997, TVA established a 4-year moratorium on making any changes in lake levels; (13) TVA has recognized that any future changes to its policies impacting lake levels require further study; (14) in July 1998, an internal TVA task force report recommended that TVA continue its moratorium and start reevaluating policies impacting lake levels within the next 2 to 4 years; (15) the task force also noted the complexities involved in carrying out such a study and identified several areas requiring further attention; and (16) among these are a proactive communication plan with the public and better evaluation methodologies for costs and benefits.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Chairman of TVA's Board of Directors should provide for a formal and continuing communication process for the public and other stakeholders to actively participate in TVA's efforts to reexamine its policies impacting lake levels.

    Agency Affected: Tennessee Valley Authority: Board of Directors

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At a November 1, 2000, public meeting conducted by a TVA-created advisory council, GAO made a presentation to the council's members discussing the information in GAO's May 1999 report, including the report's recommendations. On May 18, 2001, the advisory council's integrated river management subcommittee echoed GAO's recommendation that TVA incorporate public participation in its studies of lake level policies to ensure the credibility of the studies. On October 23, 2001, TVA's Board of Directors accepted this recommendation to incorporate public participation, and added that (1) it hoped that members of the council will continue to contribute their hard-won understanding of the issues and personal perspectives on the issues as TVA begins this two-year task, and (2) TVA staff will work with the council to identify appropriate and effective methods for incorporating council and stakeholder priorities for TVA's management of the reservoir system.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of TVA's Board of Directors should ensure that TVA's reexamination efforts include consideration of both the costs and benefits of any potential changes to policies impacting lake levels.

    Agency Affected: Tennessee Valley Authority: Board of Directors

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At a November 1, 2000, public meeting conducted by a TVA-created advisory council, GAO made a presentation to the council's members discussing the information in GAO's May 1999 report, including the report's recommendations. On May 18, 2001, the advisory council's integrated river management subcommittee echoed the overall thrust of GAO's recommendation by recommending that TVA reexamine its policies impacting lake levels, that TVA's reexamination efforts include consideration of both the costs and benefits of any potential changes to policies impacting lake levels, and that TVA begin this formal reevaluation as soon as possible. On October 23, 2001, TVA's Board of Directors accepted this recommendation and stated that it will begin the formal study in fiscal year 2002.

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