Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Tennessee
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Tennessee Project

Buliding A Structured Decision Making Model for the Elk River

March 2011 - June 2013


Participating Agencies

  • U.S. Geological Survey

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is modifying how they operate Tims Ford Dam on the Elk River to improve the habitat for two federally-listed endangered species, the cracking pearlymussel and the Boulder darter. Tims Ford Dam, constructed in 1970, has historically been operated to provide flood control, municipal water, peaking hydroelectric power, and recreational fishing for non-native rainbow trout and brown trout in the tailwater. Tims Ford Dam discharges cold hypolimnetic water through its main turbine and the altered thermal regime and hydrograph downstream of the dam have been detrimental to the native fish and mussel fauna in the Elk River. In response to a Biological Opinion from the USFWS, the TVA is committed to using an Adaptive Resource Management (ARM) framework to identify the factors influencing fish and mussel populations in that river and balancing the need to improve habitat for imperiled aquatic species with other dam operations such as flood protection, water supply, recreation, and power production. Structured Decision Making (SDM) models are an increasingly common tool available to engineers, biologists, and other stakeholders seeking to adopt an ARM approach to predicting and evaluating the response of ecosystems to various management or operational alternatives. The objective of this project is to develop a SDM model that can be used by engineers and biologists with the USFWS and TVA to guide the operation of Tims Ford Dam in such a way as to balance competing interests and allow imperiled fauna to persist and expand their distribution.