Commentary: Shadow opportunity sheds light on civil works mission

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 16, 2019) – Throughout its 130 years of history, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District has evolved and advanced to keep pace with rapid development in the Cumberland River Basin and across the district’s area of responsibility.

Nashville is an ever-expanding metropolis with a rich history and culture that connects not only Tennessee, but all the states that border it. The Nashville District is based in Music City close to the Cumberland River, the waterway its employees have been developing since 1888.

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to travel daily from my home station at Fort Campbell, Ky., to shadow and see the diverse jobs and positions in the Nashville District as part of a developmental program.

I spent time in at least 15 work centers over the past half year, which gave me unique insight on how the Nashville District plays a large role across seven states executing both its primary and secondary civil works missions. Between implementing flood risk management, providing an expedient waterway to move goods, and producing cheap green energy, the organization plays a vital role in the lives of everyday Americans.

Of all of the Nashville District’s civil works missions, I found flood risk management to be the most important. The Cumberland River stretches from Eastern Kentucky, through Tennessee, ending in Western Kentucky where it meets the Ohio River. Within the Cumberland River and its tributaries the Corps manages a total of 10 dams.

Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown, Ky., and its reservoir, Lake Cumberland, stores over six million acre feet of water that is used for both flood control and conservation. It’s by far the largest storage project in the district. When record rains hit the region in February 2019, Lake Cumberland reached a record pool of 756.52 feet. The ability to hold back water until safe to make releases at the district’s dams reduced flood impacts and saved an estimated $1.72 billion of would-be flood damage in the basin.

Another example of a unique project is the saddle dam on Center Hill Lake near the main dam where the Nashville District is constructing a roller compacted concrete berm. The berm is necessary to reduce risk of potential overtopping failure of the saddle dam, and to prevent internal erosion of its foundation. I visited the project site with a geologist and enjoyed the opportunity to watch the preparation of the foundation prior to concrete placement.

Along with dams, the Corps also uses levees, floodwalls, tunnels, and channel modifications to reduce the risk of flooding in communities throughout the basin. Not only does the Corps use these structural means, but also non-structural. When a structural solution may not work or be feasible, the Corps can also raise existing structures or utilize buy outs to support individuals and families in impacted dwellings.

The Nashville District plays a major role in the navigation of both the Tennessee and Cumberland River Systems. With water impounded in reservoirs to maintain the flood risk management mission, locks are extremely important in the movement of goods and commodities utilizing the Inland Waterway System.

The river basins that feed into these systems cover approximately 59,000 square miles. Along the Cumberland River System, the Corps manages four locks. The Nashville District operates nine navigation locks in the Tennessee River Basin, which are Tennessee Valley Authority projects.

The Nashville District is managing the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project and the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, both at TVA projects. When completed, these larger locks are expected to reduce the time it takes for larger tows to navigate up and down the waterways delivering goods throughout the region.

USACE has provided clean, green energy to the surrounding area for more than 60 years under its hydropower mission. Along the Cumberland River and its tributaries, the Corps maintains and operates nine power plants, which house 28 hydropower units.

The Nashville District began producing hydropower when it built the Center Hill Power Plant in 1950. The district concluded hydropower construction with Laurel Power Plant in 1977. The system is capable of producing up to 914 Mega Watts of power each day. Through an agreement with the Southeastern Power Administration, the Corps is able to get power into the hands of everyday Americans, providing a greener and more sustainable option. With some of the plants approaching their 70th year of operation, the Corps has been working to upgrade and improve the aging infrastructure.

Since 1888, the Nashville District has been expertly performing its civil works missions. Between flood risk reduction, providing navigable water ways, and creating alternate sources of energy, the district provides indispensable assistance to American Citizens. After seeing the hard work and dedication of the Corps employees throughout the district, I believe that the Corps of Engineers is on a path to success for many years to come.

The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at

(Editor’s Note: Capt. William Keenan is an electrical engineer assigned to 21st Brigade Engineer Battalion at Fort Campbell. He spent the last six months with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District in a development assignment.)

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub ( The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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