Contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District install a 23-foot-tall concrete shaft enclosure weighing approximately 120,000 pounds as part of the guard wall at the Monongahela River Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Nov. 16, 2023.

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Managing water in the Nashville District

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District
Published Feb. 20, 2024
Choppy water with a dam in the far background

J. Percy Priest Dam as seen from a nearby boat ramp on the lake in Nashville, Tennessee, Dec. 15, 2021. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District operates and maintains the project. (USACE Photo by Leon Roberts)

Woman stands near pin board looking at maps.

Civil Engineer Faye Valerio of Nashville District looks at maps on February 20, 2024.

Man stands in front of projector screen gesticulating with his hands.

Randy Kerr, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Water Management Section hydraulic engineer, provides a detailed overview of the Cumberland River System to members of the Lower Mekong Initiative in Nashville, Tenn., June 13, 2019. (USACE photo by Leon Roberts)

What is Water Management?

Here in the Nashville District, crisscrossed by the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, water management is a constant and ever-changing balancing act.

Following great national floods in the early 20th century, along with periods of extreme drought, legislation was passed to spur the construction of various flood control projects. The first were Wolf Creek, Dale Hollow, Center Hill, and J. Percy Priest Dams. These projects were intended to hold water during wet periods and have it available to release during drier periods. Those projects were followed by Cordell Hull, Old Hickory, Cheatham, and Barkley Lock and Dams, which were constructed to provide navigation from the Cumberland River’s confluence with the Ohio River to Celina, Tennessee. The navigational projects maintain sufficient depth in the river channel to allow for commercial vessel traffic but, apart from Barkley, do not provide the ability to store water during a flood.

Randall Kerr has been a hydraulic engineer at Nashville District headquarters since 2010. “Our flood storage projects are Wolf Creek, J. Percy Priest, Dale Hollow, and Center Hill. These are operated to have a lower water level in the winter, so we can store spring rainfall while minimizing risk to downstream communities. This stored water will then be released gradually when downstream conditions allow to prepare for recovery storage space for future rainfall events. Our main river projects, which have very little storage, are Cordell Hull, Old Hickory, Cheatham, and Barkley. These projects maintain fairly stable water levels, which allows for both commercial and recreation navigation to move seamlessly along the Cumberland River throughout the year.”

The various Nashville District USACE projects become particularly important during times of heavy rainfall and snowmelt. The National Weather Service provides USACE with radar rainfall estimates and forecasts of inflows to our reservoirs. We in turn provide real-time information and forecasts for the operations of our projects and corresponding discharges which are incorporated into official river flood forecasts provided to the public.

Prior to USACE, Kerr worked in the private sector and for the Tennessee Valley Authority and was educated at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He explains his motivations: “I got into this because I take it as a daily challenge. I’m a cheapskate kind of a guy, I try to squeeze every penny out of a dollar. I do the same thing with a reservoir system. We’re given this water resource, and I try to optimize it to best balance all project purposes. On a daily basis we’re looking at current inflows, rainfall and temperature forecasts, considering which projects are going to have hydropower unit outages or restrictions, environmental considerations, the list goes on and on. It’s an everyday challenge. It’s always something different.”

Faye Valerio has been a hydraulic engineer at USACE Nashville District for close to two years. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, she enjoyed her hydraulics classes enough to pursue and win a job with USACE.

“When it comes to reservoirs, I like to think of them as cups. Water falls into the cups, and we manage that water. We have the ability to hold it in there or release it.”

The USACE Nashville District has the most water storage capacity of the entire Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, which encompasses seven districts over 17 states. Learn more about the Division here.

Weather can be unpredictable, and USACE urges everyone to exercise caution and prepare for extreme weather events. Many people do not realize two feet of water on a highway or bridge can float most vehicles. If the water is moving rapidly, the car, truck or SUV can be swept off the bridge and into a body of water. Water can erode the roadbed, creating unsafe driving conditions. Underpasses can fill with water, while the adjacent roadway remains clear. Many flash floods occur at night when flooded roads are difficult to see. Information for preparing for cold weather can be found at

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District manages the Cumberland River and its tributaries, balancing the demands for water releases to flood risk management, commercial navigation, production of hydropower, recreation, fish and wildlife, water supply and water quality.

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 Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at

Chick Lock

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