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TVA is reinforcing Pickwick Dam to minimize earthquake threat

Construction on the berm will start in the fall.

Posted: Apr 6, 2019 4:04 PM
Updated: Apr 8, 2019 10:46 AM

Right now if a large earthquake were to hit Alabama or Tennessee Pickwick Dam could possibly fail, because of this seismic threat. The Tennessee Valley Authority is strengthening Pickwick Dam to be able to withstand a large quake.

Pickwick Dam is about an hour Northwest of the Shoals in Savannah Tennessee. February's floods did slow down TVA's plans but now the Pickwick Dam project is full steam ahead.

Pickwick Dam was completed in 1938, when the dam was built the technology used to build it was state of the art. Pickwick Dam has a clay core in it's center. TVA said back then little was known about earthquakes and the effect they could have on dams.

"One of the things we realized during the testing process at Pickwick Dam is that it's seismically susceptible to defamation," said Bernie Auld, TVA's Senior Program Manager at Pickwick Dam.

That means if a large earthquake were to hit, Pickwick Dam's clay core could shift and the dam could breach.

"Pickwick is a safe dam as it sits today," said Auld. "The only thing that effects Pickwick, or the defamation we refereed to earlier, is only under a seismic condition what were trying to do is bring it into a seismic standard."

TVA has already equipped the dam with an updated warning system, adding some 30 seismic instruments that monitor the dam 24/7. TVA officials told WAAY31 their biggest concern is how close Pickwick Dam is to the New Madrid Fault Line.

"We're monitoring earthquakes both in East Tennessee and West Tennessee so it's something were very cognoscente on it's something we look at and monitor all our dams under any seismic activity throughout the valley," said Auld.

Now the big project of reinforcing Pickwick Dam will start and it's costing TVA about $150 million. They have cleared trees and moved equipment into place to start adding a berm, which is a raised bank.

"It [berm] will extend out about 50 to 75 feet," said Auld. "Then you will see an extended fill and again this is all basically to mitigate the seismic activity and keep the dam in shape."

TVA will be using one million tons of rock and sand to reinforce the dam, that's equal to 300 Saturn V rockets. They will also be using all local contractors on the project. If your wondering what it would look like if the dam were to breach Auld said it would be similar to flooding in 2013 in Savannah, Tennessee.

"What we want to do is educate the people. So people who flooded prior to that process would see the same form of flooding should a seismic event occur of that nature that would cause any sort of breach in the dam," said Auld.

TVA said river navigation will not be effected by this project. The work on forming the berms will start this fall and the project will be done in about two years.

In June TVA, the Army Core of Engineers, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be doing a multi-agency training exercise to simulate a big earthquake at the New Madrid Fault Line.

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