The towering concrete of Table Rock Dam may be an afterthought for many.

You can drive through it on your way to Moonshine Beach or visit the nearby lookout when some, if not all, of the gates to the stain have been opened.

The lake provides hydroelectric and recreational opportunities for millions of visitors to southwestern Missouri, and the 745 miles of shoreline provide several places to cool off, especially with the historic heat wave the Ozarks are currently experiencing.

Ultimately, however, the number one goal of the dam is and always has been to reduce flood risk.

Let’s take a look inside the massive concrete structure that changed the White River and gave us the landscape we know today.

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The lights above the generators at the Table Rock Dam Power Plant signify that the generators are on and producing electricity.

The Table Rock Dam is one of a series of Army Corps Dams

Table Rock Dam is owned and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District. The first two 18-foot-diameter penstocks were ready for power generation in June 1959, and the last two units were completed in August 1961.

On Wednesday, Corps of Engineers public affairs director Jay Townsend met with Springfield News-Leader reporters to show them inside the dam, including a closer look at the generators.

Before heading to the dam, Townsend showed the layout of the dams using artwork at the Dewey Short Visitor Center, starting with Beaver Lake.

“We have several lines of defense, all along this White River, here to protect our major assets,” Townsend said, referring to rice paddies down the river in Arkansas. “As storms in the United States always move west to east, Beaver (Lake) is the first to fill and the last to empty.”

The 252-foot-tall Table Rock Dam began generating electricity in June 1959. The dam contains more than 1.2 million cubic meters of concrete and is 6,432 feet long, including its two embankments buried.

Table Rock Lake has the least storage, so it usually fills up first. The water is then discharged into Lake Taneycomo and Lake Bull Shoals.

“Bull Shoals is big enough if sitting in a conservation pool, it can hold anything Table Rock and Beaver combined,” Townsend said.

Not a question of if, but when the weir aid will be used

An access hatch in one of the 18-foot-diameter penstocks carrying 1,500,000 gallons per minute of water from Table Rock Lake to the 68,000 horsepower turbines to generate electricity at Table Dam Rock on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Table Rock also has an auxiliary spillway near the dam. It was completed in 2005 and cost around $65 million, according to the Corps of Engineers website. If Table Rock Lake reached its maximum feet above the 931 flood basin, the auxiliary would open to release the water.

“It’s not if, but when we exceed our flood control capacity,” Townsend said. “We want people to know that we have this fantastic resource here, but at some point we will have a rain storm that will exceed capacity or the likely scenario is that it would be heavy spring rains repeated over and over without enough time in between. tank down.”

Ideally, Table Rock Lake would be in a year-round 915-foot conservation pool, but weather conditions do not permit this.

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A shaft spinning at more than 100 rpm connects a 68,000 horsepower turbine to a generator capable of producing 50,000 kilowatts of electricity at Table Rock Dam on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

The Table Rock facility was primarily for flood risk reduction, Townsend reiterated. Hydropower and recreation are major benefits, but if they disappear or decline for some reason, Townsend said flood risk management will continue.

“Everything else is secondary,” Townsend said. “When the dam was built, there weren’t many people, but there is a lot of agricultural land. Now there are a lot of people.”

“It’s there for flood risk management, so when it fills up they get frustrated, but it works as expected,” he continued.

No ‘aliens’ or ‘stored ammunition’ inside hydroelectric plant

US Army Corps of Engineers Chief Public Affairs Officer Jay Townsend talks about the process of generating electricity in a room housing a 100+ rpm shaft that connects a turbine powered by electricity water moving towards a generator to generate electricity at Table Rock Dam Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Once through the security gate, Townsend showed the News-Leader around the outside before entering. The rushing waters of Lake Taneycomo indicated that hydroelectricity was being produced and generators were running.

People often ask if there are “aliens” or “stored munitions” inside the dam, Townsend joked.

“It’s a hydroelectric plant,” he explained. Once inside there were no wandering Martians and the only inventory we saw appeared to be tools and supplies stored for maintenance.

Almost everything at the dam has been designed in such a way that workers can access it. Grilles have been added to get into tight spaces. Rails were installed to transport massive equipment. But, there is no elevator.

“Do you know where you get parts for 60-year-old hydroelectric generators,” Townsend asked. “You can’t find them at Lowe’s, so most everything we use has to be made on site or we borrow it from another dam until something can be made and brought in.”

It’s true. If anything about the giant turbines or other machinery is needed, the staff fabricates them, either by welding and repairing or by other methods.

Crossing the hall, which was painted a pleasant blue, it was time to go up the stairs. Different stairs lead to different parts of the factory. One set showed the generators on the ground floor. The lights on top signaled that they were on and producing electricity. Just below these generators were the cylinders rotating at 128.6 rpm.

Scattered everywhere were giant tools that seemed to fit perfectly in an ogre’s hand.

One of the 18 foot diameter penstocks that carries water from Table Rock Lake to the 68,000 horsepower turbines to generate electricity at Table Rock Dam on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. The penstock carries 1,500,000 gallons of water per minute when generating 50,000 kilowatts.

Below were the four 18-foot penstocks and the two four-foot penstocks. The sound was deafening and hearing protection was recommended.

Condensation was forming along the outside of the penstocks, enough for the minerals to form stalactites along the wall. The doors leading to the whistling water are sealed, but a personal flotation device hangs from the nearby hallway, just in case.

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Public tours of the dams were suspended several years ago

The Table Rock Dam Power Plant contains the four huge generators used to produce power to send to the grid.

In previous years, Corps of Engineers has partnered with private and nonprofit organizations to conduct public tours of the dam. These partnerships, such as a joint management agreement between the Corps and the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation, were dissolved about seven years ago.

“We don’t have the manpower,” Townsend said. “We are not funded to hold public tours.”

These tours caught people’s attention and perhaps encouraged some to later pursue jobs in the fields of engineering or architecture. Townsend, for his part, recalled touring dams in Arkansas as a teenager and now he’s enjoying more than a decade of employment with the Corps.

“These are tough jobs, but they are good jobs that bring real value to the nation — unrewarded jobs, really, too,” Townsend said. “These guys who sit in these control rooms and operate these dams, stopping the floods, keeping the flow going and nobody knows their name.”

Although public tours are over for now, Townsend said he hopes they can start again someday.

Table Rock Dam:

  • Is 6,432 feet long with a concrete section 1,602 feet long and surrounded by two earth embankments that are 4,821 feet long
  • Rises 252 feet above the riverbed
  • Contains over 1.2 million cubic yards of concrete and 3.32 million cubic yards of fill
  • Has four 18-foot-diameter penstocks that carry water to four 50,000 kilowatt generators

Sara Karnes is an outdoor reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Do you have a story to tell? Email him at [email protected]