When a concerned citizen captured a photo of boaters standing on Wilson Dam’s spillway gate and posted it to Facebook last month, TVA took action to prevent a potentially deadly future accident.
TVA Police responded, asking for help from the community to identify the individuals.
“By the time we heard about the photo on social media, the boaters were gone,” said Todd Peney, director, TVA Police and Emergency Management. “The individuals turned themselves in and we were able to brief them on the dangers of their actions so they’ll never put themselves in that potentially fatal position again.”
At any time, a spillway gate at one of TVA’s dams can open, releasing anywhere from 30,000 (on average) to 748,000 (with record-breaking rain) gallons of water per second – certain death for any of the six individuals drawn to the beautiful archways at Wilson Dam near Florence, Ala.
“We have warning signs up and down the river for the safety of the public,” said Wilson Dam Plant Manager Tabatha Lolley. “If you ignore them, it’s a higher risk of injury or even death.”
“To stand on a spillway gate is very dangerous. You can either fall 100 feet or be sucked into the gate and drown,” she said.
Each dam will give a two-minute warning with an audible horn and strobe light before spilling water, among other safety features. These warnings are something to be taken seriously, but the dams can be dangerous even without releasing water. In February, three fishermen were swept into the spillway at Pickwick Dam and killed from venturing too close.
“At Pickwick Hydro within the last three years, seven members of the public have been killed getting too close to a spillway gate,” said Kevin York, senior manager, Regional Hydro Generation.
“The water may look calm and smooth, but ten feet below the surface is an incredible undertow worse than an ocean riptide,” said Wes Stovall, Wilson Hydro, assistant plant manager.
“It’s part of our mission to protect our employees and the members of the public, so we do what we can to warn boaters,” said York. “On average, TVA is involved in a rescue and recovery effort once a week across our river system. Being on the water can be fun, but don’t let it be deadly.”