Watts Bar Navigation Lock

Published Jan. 11, 2024
Watts Bar Navigation Lock aerial view

Watts Bar Navigation Lock

Watts Bar Lock is near Decatur, Tennessee.  It is approximately halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville.

The lock is located at Tennessee River mile 529.9.  It is 72.4 miles downstream from Fort Loudoun Lock and 58.9 miles above Chickamauga Lock.

History of Navigation in the Area

Building navigational facilities at Watts Bar was one of the earliest major attempts to improve the Tennessee River.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing a rock dike across the slough at the head of Watts Island in 1872.  Two wing dams were also built on the right bank, one just below the head of the island and the other several hundred feet downstream.  Since both projected some distance into the river, they established a channel to the right or left of Watts Island.
In August 1911, the Corps dredged the original channel to deepen it and removed the sandbars.  They finished that effort in January 1913.
The Nashville District recommended in a 1930 report to the Chief of Engineers that a low-lift navigation dam be constructed at Watts Bar.  Two years later core drilling was conducted at Watts Bar to investigate possible construction.  They also did core drilling at that time to investigate conditions for a possible  high dam at Whites Creek, 13.5 miles upstream.
The creation of TVA transferred responsibility for all water resources development, except navigation, in the Tennessee River Basin to that agency.  TVA engineers examined the samples from the two sites and determined that Watts Bar would be more suitable for a multi-purpose, high dam.  

Lock History

Construction of the Watts Bar Lock was begun by TVA in 1939.  It was placed into operation on Feb. 19, 1942. 

More About Watts Bar Lock and Dam

Watts Bar got its name from nearby Watts Island and the fact that there were many sandbars in the area.  The sandbars were a landmark known to early river pilots and appeared on all early charts.
In 1956 a highway bridge was built across the dam.  Spanning the lock, the bridge connected U.S. Highway 27 with Tennessee State Highway 58.

(Go to the Tennessee Valley Authority Watts Bar Reservoir web page for more information about this project)