A wooden flume used to transport water to generate power for the Tennessee Valley burst after a rockslide fell on the wooden structure, releasing thousands of gallons of water into the Ocoee River below early Wednesday afternoon.
The flume runs on the mountainside above the Ocoee, downstream from Ocoee No. 2 dam in Polk County. It generates 17 megawatts of power per day, enough to power nearly 10,000 homes. However, residents don't need to worry about losing power or having higher bills because of the incident, Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Fiedler said.
"It should have zero effect on electricity, because of our diverse power generation," he said. "That's why you have a diversified portfolio. You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket."
TVA generates power through coal, solar, wind, water and other renewable sources, he said, and when a problem occurs with one, TVA is able to continue generating power without affecting its customers.
However, that doesn't mean the process won't be a headache for the utility company. It likely will take months for the problem to be fixed, and in the meantime, water will be diverted down the river and can't be used for power generation.
A rockslide that happened around 2014 within several hundred feet of Wednesday's slide caused a similar issue. It took eight months to fix.
TVA already has employees on scene responding to the issue. The immediate task is ensuring all the rocks in the area are stable so another slide doesn't occur, possibly injuring workers and damaging more of the flume.
Once the area is safe, workers will assess what repairs are needed, document damage and then start on fixing the flume.
"We're closer to the starting line than the finish line," Fiedler said.
The flume is high on the mountainside, running about 100 feet above the river at the location of the break. With mountainside above and river below, it could be a tricky fix. However, it is an issue that was long-ago foreseen.
A trolley system runs above the river, allowing workers to shuttle equipment and perform repairs on the flume. Workers will use the system to access and fix the break.
"The guys who thought of this were really smart at the turn of the [20th] century," Fiedler said.
Barry Semak, a summer raft guide for Carolina Ocoee, was one of the first people at the scene of the incident.
"When I first got there, there was loads of water shooting off the side of the mountain," he said.
TVA closed the intake to the flume, which kept water from entering. The water already in the system continued to flow out of the hole through the afternoon.
In the meantime, paddlers rejoice. There will be at least several extra months of paddling.
Throughout the late fall and winter, water is diverted through the flume, meaning it isn't flowing down the river. Now that the flume is closed, the Ocoee's signature rapids that have brought millions of people to its waters will flow throughout the winter.
This story was updated Nov. 8 at 11:25 p.m.