The idea for damming the Roanoke River at the natural gap of Smith Mountain in Southwestern
Virginia had been promoted for a number of years before the Smith Mountain Pump
Storage Hydroelectric Project became reality. Originally proposed seriously in the
1920s, it was another 40 years before Appalachian Power completed the two dams which
make up the unique project. Construction on the Smith Mountain and Leesville dams
began in 1960 and was completed in 1963. Hundreds of workers cleared several hundred
cubic feet of mountainside and poured about 200,000 cubic feet of concrete to build
The Smith Mountain Dam is a double curvature, concrete arch type spanning 816 feet
and rising 235 feet above the floor of the gap; Leesville Dam is a concrete gravity
dam and is 980 feet long and 90 feet tall.
The project’s two lakes reached their normal “full” water level in 1966. The areas
covered by the reservoirs were primarily rural farmland. During dam construction
Appalachian Power also built several bridges to accommodate traffic around the lakes.
Combined, Smith Mountain and Leesville Lakes are almost 60 miles in length, contain
about 25,000 surface acres and include 600 miles of shoreline.
Appalachian Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP), is licensed to
operate the Smith Mountain Project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The initial license term was for fifty years. In 1998, AEP began the process of
relicensing and a new license with a 30-year term was issued in 2009 and became effective in 2010.
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