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History of the North Anna Dam

History, Hard Facts & Helpful Characteristics 

By Kelsey Thomas

1) The Birth of Lake Anna

Lake Anna wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the North Anna Dam. In fact, before the lake, it was solely the North Anna River, hence how the dam got its name. Part of the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, North Anna River is well known for being a major battle site in the American Civil War. The lake was created for recreational purposes and to provide cooling water for the North Anna Power Station, which now powers 450,000 homes. It all began in 1968 when Virginia Electric and Power Company (now Dominion) purchased 18,000 acres of farmland in 3 counties along the North Anna and Pamunkey Rivers and started building the dam. Upon the closing of the dam in 1972, the lake was complete and just needed to be filled. While it was projected that this step would take 3 years, rainfall from Hurricane Agnes helped transform that timeline into just 18 months. 

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2) Know the Dam Facts

The North Anna Dam is an earthen embankment dam measuring at 5,000 ft long, 90 ft high and 30 ft wide at the crest, which is 265 ft above sea level. It is vital in the functions of the North Anna Power Station, as its radial gates pass cooling water to the station. The dam’s hydroelectric power plant is located on the west side of the spillway and is supplied with water from a penstock that is 5 ft in diameter. It consists of 2 small open runner turbine-generators – one with a 775 kW capacity and the other with a 225 kW capacity for a combined total of 1 megawatt of power. The spillway is located in the center of the dam’s body, measuring at 200 ft wide and features 3 main 40-ft wide and 30-ft high radial gates that maintain normal discharge.  

3) The North Anna Power Station

Now that you know purpose of the lake and dam, you may be wondering why The North Anna Power Station is so significant. This Dominion-owned nuclear power plant in Louisa County utilizes cool water from Lake Anna to condense steam back to water, then returns it back to the lake warmer than when it was taken – hence the “cool side” and “warm side” of Lake Anna. The plant produces 17% of Virginia’s electricity, has an annual economic impact in the state at approximately $711.1 million and also supports 900 jobs in Louisa County. Learn more at 

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4) Visit & Learn

Many people like to take on the waters via kayak or boat to get a glimpse of the dam up close, but there are also many spots that people can go to take a deep dive into the history of both the dam and the lake. The North Anna Battlefield is the site where it all began and is now a spot where guests can explore trails and learn more about the American Civil War. The dam created the Lake Anna reservoir and the Waste Heat Treatment Facility, both of which are now popular recreational spots. The lake is also surrounded by unique history museums and archive centers, like the Louisa County Historical Society, Spotsylvania County Museum and the Lake Anna Visitor Center. Or you can fully explore on your own at Lake Anna State Park, which is rich in history and features many hiking trails and camping opportunities.