For residents, Alabama’s earliest dams were simply creators of light to illuminate the dark nights covering the state’s countryside. No longer a luxury reserved for city life, electricity running to the hills and hollows from these initial dam facilities forever altered the lives of the rural state.
Today — with whole generations removed from the realities of life without electricity — perceptions of dam operation are defined by their influence on the complex lives of those they touch. In a state with more than 77,000 miles of rivers and streams and covered by 500,000 acres of standing water, dams play a complex role of inter-balanced considerations that impact quality of life, economic health and conservation across the state.
To provide insight into such interrelationships and how they balance the often conflicting needs of those they serve, the Dam Anatomy series will break down major aspects of dam operations — hydroelectric production, flood control, recreation, environmental flows and navigation — and how they interact to shape lives on the reservoirs and across the state.
Hydroelectric energy production
While the demand for electricity drove the construction of the majority of Alabama’s river-impoundment projects, today most people are unaware of how dams operate or their role with regard to electric generation and broader system reliability.
The various dams that impound Alabama’s rivers were designed to play different roles — roles that impact both dam design and lake level management — to help manage fluctuating flows of state rivers due to the heavy rains or drought conditions that alternately impact the state.
For members of the public, a day on the lake provides both fun and relaxation. For dam operators, the projects also provide a way to support the communities surrounding each reservoir by working with local, state and federal organizations to improve access and recreational facilities.
Impoundments of state waterways are also crucial to the foliage and fauna their various ecosystems support. Alabama Power dam operators work closely with state and federal organizations to collect data and conduct research as they search for ways to help support those valuable environmental resources.
Dam operators are cognizant of down stream navigation needs and work to coordinate their flows with those of other dams and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to support the 1,438 miles of navigable transportation channels across the state.