Project Background

The ACT Basin provides water resources for multiple purposes from just north of the Tennessee-Georgia border, extending into central north Georgia, crossing the Georgia-Alabama state line into north Alabama, continuing across central and south Alabama before terminating in Mobile Bay.

The basin covers 32 counties in Alabama, 18 counties in Georgia, and 2 counties in Tennessee. The basin drains 22,800 square miles, extending approximately 320 miles.

There are three main rivers in the ACT basin: the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers. The Coosa and Tallapoosa join to form the Alabama River about two-thirds of the way downstream in the basin. The Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers have numerous smaller tributary rivers.

Eighteen dams are in the ACT basin, which form 16 major reservoirs (Jordan and Bouldin share a common reservoir and Carters Dam and Carters Reregulation Dam function as a single system). Six dams are federally owned by USACE and 12 are privately owned projects. Of the 18 dams, 2 are on the Coosawattee River, 1 on the Etowah River, 7 on the Coosa River, 4 on the Tallapoosa River, 1 on the Cahaba River, and 3 on the Alabama River.

Water Control Manuals are required for four of Alabama Power Company's (APC) projects that have flood risk management as a purpose. On June 28, 1954, the 83rd Congress, second session, enacted Public Law 436, which suspended the authorization under the River and Harbor Act of March 2, 1945, insofar as it concerned federal development of the Coosa River for the development of electric power, to permit development by private interests under a license to be issued by the Federal Power Commission (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). The law stipulates that the license must require the provision of flood control (now called flood risk management) storage and further states that the projects will be operated for flood risk management and navigation in accordance with reasonable rules and regulations of the Secretary of the Army. Thus, the water control manual requirement for the four dams Weiss, Neely H. Henry, Logan Martin, and Harris. This update process includes appendices prepared for two of the four Alabama Power Company (APC) projects for which USACE has authority for flood risk management and navigation support - Neely Henry and R.L. Harris. Water Control Plans for the remaining two APC projects –Weiss and Logan Martin-- will be addressed at a later date.

Water Management

Project operations at each reservoir in the ACT basin are described in the Water Control Manuals. The manuals typically outline the operating criteria, guidelines, and rule curves, as well as specifications for storage and releases from the reservoirs. The Water Control Manuals also outline the coordination protocol and data collection, management and dissemination associated with routine and specific water management activities (such as flood risk management operations or drought contingency operations). Updates to the Water Control Manuals are integrated with the NEPA public involvement and documentation process. The Final EIS addresses updated operation criteria and guidelines for managing water control actives under federal authority within the ACT Basin.

The ACT Basin Water Control Manual is composed of a series of documents—the Water Control Master Water Control Manual and nine individual reservoir manuals that contain plans for system operation.

The Water Manual Update and NEPA processes are described on this Web site.  The updated Water Control Manuals will capture the following:

  • Project/system operations refined over the years because of changes in basin hydrology and withdrawals/consumption that resulted from years of growth/development
  • Drought contingency requirements to account for new data and operational changes
  • Updated data reflecting current basin conditions
  • New/rehabilitated project structural features
  • Environmental requirements for endangered species and fish spawns
  • Procedures for capturing/using real-time data provided by additional gages and monitoring devices installed since last manual updates
  • Latest computer models and techniques to evaluate and establish guidelines for project operations
  • Improved and streamlined methods for data exchange between the USACE and other agencies

Water Control Manuals

The authority for water control operations for USACE-owned and operated reservoir projects is contained in legislative authorization acts and referenced project documents. The public laws and project documents contain provisions for the development of a Master Water Control Manual and specific project Water Control Manuals, and appropriate revisions and updates. A number of congressional authorizations apply to all federal reservoir projects, including the following:

  • Flood Control Act of 1944 (P.L. 78-534)
  • Water Supply Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-500)
  • Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-624)
  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (P.L. 92-500)
  • Endangered Species Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-205)
  • Water Resource Development Acts

The purpose and need for this update of the Water Control Manual is to determine how the federal projects in the ACT Basin should update operations for their authorized purposes, in light of current conditions and applicable law, and to implement those operations through updated water control plans and manuals. The action will result in updated plans and manuals that comply with existing USACE regulations and reflect operations under existing congressional authorizations, taking into account changes in basin hydrology and demands from years of growth and development, new/rehabilitated structural features, legal developments, and environmental issues. 

Hydrologists must consider and evaluate many factors to determine the appropriate management of water at each lake. In addition to the constraints of the authorized project purposes, they must consider power contract commitments, hydrologic and climatologic factors, downstream lake and basin-wide conditions, potential threats of flood and drought, and lake levels.

Without a comprehensive updated Water Control Manual, USACE runs the risk of, among other things, not providing sufficient water where needed (when needed to meet the authorized project purposes and the needs of stakeholders, whether domestic, municipal, or industrial); adversely affecting endangered species; expending water resources too early, which reduces the ability to maintain the system to meet project purposes and the needs of stakeholders; and flooding people and facilities that are now within flood plains. This risk is due to changing conditions within the basin and at federal reservoirs which, if not accounted for, can affect water management decisions.

USACE regulations also provide specific policy and guidance for inclusion of drought contingency plans as part of USACE’s overall water control management activities. This update includes a proposed drought plan for the basin developed in collaboration with Alabama Power Company (APC).  In addition the Master Manual includes appendices prepared for two of the four APC projects for which USACE has authority for flood risk management and navigation support - Neely Henry and R.L. Harris.  APC regulates these four non-federal projects in compliance with the projects’ Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses and in accordance with USACE water control plans for flood management regulation and navigation support.  Water Control Manuals for the remaining two APC projects –Weiss and Logan Martin-- will be addressed at a later date.

Through this action the USACE is not proposing to build, install, or upgrade any facilities nor is the USACE proposing to modify any authorized project purpose via this action, although the extent to which some can be achieved may be affected.  This action is limited to the way reservoir levels are managed and water is released from them.