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Restore Chattooga Gorge
1923 construction of Tugalo Dam buried over 4 miles of the Chattooga River.

Every three years, Georgia Power (GP) is required to submit an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to the Georgia Public Service Commission. This is a 20-year plan detailing what energy sources the company plans to use to deliver electricity to its customers. GP’s submission occurred last year and included plans to upgrade the turbines at Tugalo Dam, costing around $115 million.

Our team retained legal counsel to help navigate the Georgia Public Service Commission hearings, testimonies, witnesses, and cross-examinations. Our witness panel consisted of representatives from American Rivers and the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and their testimony laid out the huge ecological and economic benefits to be gained from decommissioning the Tugalo Dam.

Despite these efforts, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved GP’s plans to upgrade Tugalo Dam’s turbines; however, FERC stated in writing this will not prejudice the decision whether or not to relicense Tugalo Dam in 2036. Proceedings for the relicensing begin in 2031. At that point, public input will be crucial, and we will be able to voice our opinions to FERC. Until then, we are committed to creating a space for conversation and education about the economic, cultural, and environmental benefits of decommissioning Tugalo Dam, so when the time comes, there is ample information available for submitting comments.

Although FERC approved Georgia Power’s plans to upgrade the dam’s turbines, we are optimistic about the promise that the upgrades will not prejudice the relicensing decision. As a community, we have ample time and opportunity to lobby for the decommission and removal of Tugalo Dam to restore over 4 miles of the Chattooga River and 2 miles of the Tallulah River to their natural states after a century of inundation. 


Tugalo Dam was built by Georgia Power in 1923 to generate electricity via hydropower. It has buried over 4 miles of the Chattooga River and 2 miles of the Tallulah River for a century.  The dam is responsible for changing the end of Section IV of the Chattooga River from free-flowing whitewater to a stagnant, sediment-filled lake that buries nearly 600 acres of biologically diverse temperate rainforest.
Hydropower dams must be relicensed by FERC every 30-50 years to remain in operation. Georgia Power is due to begin their relicensing process in 2031. If the relicensing is approved, the dam will continue disrupting our natural ecosystems. This is our opportunity to both restore the confluence of the Chattooga and Tallulah along with over six miles of free-flowing currents and prevent the current disruption from being prolonged for another half-century. 
As an organization dedicated to protecting the health and ecological integrity of the Chattooga River watershed, restoring the Chattooga to its most natural form is one of our top priorities. 
Today, the dam removal movement is gaining momentum! A group of organizations, including the Chattooga Conservancy, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Upstate Forever, Naturaland Trust, and the Georgia Canoeing Association, have allied in an effort to pursue Tugalo Dam decommissioning. The argument for dam removal is comprehensive and compelling as Tugalo Dam is a stellar candidate. 
Patagonia has released the film DamNation capturing how widespread the movement for dam removals is becoming. It can be streamed here!
(1) Low energy generation. The Tugalo hydropower facility generates less than 1% of Georgia Power’s total energy production at just 45 megawatts.
(2) Does not supply drinking water. Lake Tugalo does not supply any community with drinking water.
(3) Not residential. There are no homes around the lake.
(4) No flood control. The dam does not prevent or control flooding.
The University of Georgia’s River Basin center has completed a thorough report on what the lower 7 km (4.35 mi) of the Chattooga River could look like under Lake Tugalo.
This graph is a visual representation of river gradient. The horizontal axis shows the distance from just below the dam to above Bull Sluice (in kilometers, km), and the vertical axis shows riverbed elevation (in meters, m). The point on the graph at roughly 7 km upstream from the dam and 270 m of elevation indicates the start of the inundated section.
At about 7 km upstream from the dam, just below the horizontal line representing Lake Tugalo, is a section that has the steepest river reach below the Hwy. 76 bridge. Due to the steep gradient, it’s believed that this stretch could include class IV-V ledges and falls. This portion of the river could be a stretch of world-class whitewater cascades with great similarities to the Five Falls located just upstream of the inundated stretch.
The last 5 km of the river underneath the lake is believed to be drastically different with a much smaller slope. This indicates slower moving, more gentle water that could be great for fly-fishing and swimming.
With 7 more km of river, recreation opportunities could be significantly increased and thus economically benefit the area surrounding the Chattooga River.
This information is from a study by the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center. If you would like to read the full report, follow the link below.
The area surrounding Lake Tugalo is one of the most biologically diverse in the world. There are many rare/unique/endangered species that have been affected by inundation and would greatly benefit from hundreds of acres worth of new habitat opportunities. In the time after the dam removal, we would get to observe the rebirth of almost 600 acres of temperate rainforest and the expansion of native populations of plants and animals. 
Bartram’s Bass (pictured left) is a native bass only found in the Savannah River drainage with the Chattooga River as its northernmost boundary. This species is recognized as one of the best-fighting native sport fishes in North America and brings anglers to beautiful stretches of river. Bartram’s Bass is currently threatened by habitat degradation and hybridization. Removing Tugalo Dam would expand the bass’s habitat by 7 km and greatly decrease the threat of hybridization, as it removes the prime habitat for the reservoir-loving Alabama bass. Additionally, the large drops and waterfalls believed to be under Lake Tugalo would act as natural barriers to prevent competing species from swimming upstream.
Pictured right, Trillium persistens grows in the Tallulah Gorge and only exists in a four square-mile-area right here in the GA and SC mountains making it extremely rare globally. This is a species that very likely could have been buried by the reservoir, and if the dam was removed, we hypothesize these flowers could expand into the newly available land.
trillium persistens
Picture by: Kate Wempe
trichomanes petersii
Picture by: Joey Shaw with Highlands Biological Station
Trichomanes petersii (pictured left) is found only in gorge regions in SC, GA, NC, and AL, and in the tropical rainforests of the western hemisphere. It is a significantly rare species and “holy grail” for many fern enthusiasts. Because of this species’ tendencies to grow in gorge regions, it would not be surprising if it once grew in the Chattooga Gorge and could return with the absence of Lake Tugalo.
Aerial photos of the Chattooga River by Peter McIntosh
Draining Lake Tugalo results in almost 600 acres of restored land and could yield tremendous economic, cultural, and environmental benefits. Grasping the vastness of this area is not an easy task. Imagining this project moving forward isn’t easy either. With the time available leading up to the start of the relicensing process, we are committed to education about the dam removal and making the restoration of Chattooga Gorge as attainable as possible.
Making this attainable starts with conversation. We are using our social media platforms to connect with our community and talk about the uniqueness of the Chattooga River watershed. This builds excitement and helps with understanding why the addition of hundreds of acres that comes with the removal of the Tugalo Dam is so important.
You can connect with us here!