A recent boating incident at Wheeler Dam in Decatur, Ala., is an important reminder that water being discharged from powerhouses and spillways on the Tennessee River system can be extremely dangerous.
Three fishermen were pulled to safety last Wednesday and are lucky to be alive several hours after their fishing boat was caught in turbulent water near a hydro-generating unit at Wheeler Dam. The boat sank Tuesday night at the base of the dam’s powerhouse.
Wheeler Dam is equipped with a tailwater warning system. When activated, warning horns and strobe lights warn of the rapidly rising water and turbulence. Signs also warn boaters of the dangers.
“To be safe, boaters and fisherman should not get close to the base of the dams. It is a very dangerous place to be,” said John McCormick, senior vice president of Tennessee Valley Authority River Operations (TVA). “An enjoyable day of fishing can quickly turn tragic if boaters and fisherman don’t heed the warnings and get caught in rising, turbulent waters that are being discharged from below the dams.”
TVA has installed horns, strobe lights, warning signs, and electronic spillway signs with strobe lights and horns at several Valley dams to warn the public of impending changes in water conditions, such as swirling water, strong surface and underwater currents, rapidly rising water, and sudden water surges. These changes can occur when TVA starts turbines that generate electricity at the dams, raises or lowers the water level in a lock, or releases water through a spillway.
In addition, danger buoys upstream of some dams identify hazardous areas ahead. Access to these areas is restricted at all times.
To ensure your safety, please obey these warning devices! The closer you get to a dam, lock, or powerhouse, the more hazardous it can be. Getting too close to these structures isn’t worth the gamble.
Anyone who sees unsafe activities can contact TVA Police at 800-824-3861 or their local law enforcement agencies.
The video below shows an enactment of what can happen when you get caught in the turbulent water.