Managing the Tennessee River for Multiple Benefits

From the beginning, TVA was tasked with taming flooding on the wild Tennessee River. Today, TVA manages the river for multiple benefits and the highest public good.

Unpredictable swings in the abundance—or scarcity—of rain in the Tennessee Valley makes the region prone to cycles of flooding and drought. TVA’s first task was to create an engineered system of dams and reservoirs to reduce flooding, provide a navigable waterway and generate hydroelectric power. Over time, different benefits of the river system surfaced, providing additional perks such as a clean and reliable water supply, and abundant water-based recreational opportunities.

TVA constantly adjusts management of its water system to those varying conditions to make sure it continues to efficiently provide all its life-supporting benefits, which are:

Flood Damage Reduction

Of the entire river system, tributary reservoirs in the eastern Tennessee Valley provide the most valuable storage for winter and spring runoff. After downstream floods crest in the western Tennessee Valley, flood water stored in the tributary reservoirs is slowly released to regain flood storage and to support the other benefits of the Tennessee River system listed on this page. Find out more about flood damage reduction at TVA.

Navigation

Thirteen locks along the 652-mile length of the Tennessee River provide passage for 25,000-30,000 barges annually, carrying 40-50 million tons of goods, saving consumers $400-$500 million in transportation costs. Adding to that, 6,000-8,000 recreational vessels crisscross the Tennessee River and its reservoirs each year. To keep commerce and recreation rolling on the river, TVA maintains a minimum channel depth of 11 feet. Read more about navigation on the Tennessee River and its tributaries.

Power Production

At 29 TVA dams, hydroelectric power is generated by allowing water to flow from a reservoir through an intake and penstock, where the flow rotates a turbine and shaft that's connected to a rotor within copper coils—where the marvel of electricity is sparked. When water availability is low, TVA uses other resources in its diverse generating portfolio to produce power. Many of these—especially coal and nuclear plants—depend on the river for cooling water. Read more about hydroelectric power at TVA.

Water Quality

We need clean, abundant water to survive! TVA monitors and adjusts river flow to meet municipality, water-temperature and dissolved oxygen requirements for our own heath, as well as that of the other species that share our waterways. Read more about water quality.

Water Supply

Some 5 million people get their water from the Tennessee River and its tributaries every day. Over 10 billion gallons of water are used daily, drawn from 700 municipal and industrial intakes. However, almost 96 percent of that water is recycled and returned to the river to be used again. Learn more about water supply management.

Recreation

It’s fun to paddle, raft and fish in TVA rivers and lakes. The birds are lovely to see as they follow migratory patterns to our wetlands and healthy streams. A hike to hidden streams rejuvenates the soul. Get more info about recreation on TVA lakes and lands.

The River Forecast Center

TVA’s River Forecast Center, located in Knoxville, Tenn., is staffed around the clock, 365 days a year, monitoring the river to minimize flooding, as well as to track water quality data, availability and demand—all with the goal of routing water through the system to provide the most public value given changing weather conditions and water demands. Read more about the River Forecast Center.

Lake Levels & Lake Info App

So that all needs are met, TVA raises and lowers water levels in its reservoirs over the course of the year, generally raising them in the spring to promote summertime recreation, and lowering them in the autumn to provide ready flood storage for winter rains. You can get the most up-to-date information on the individual reservoirs—and download the TVA Lake Info app—on our Lake Levels page.

TVA Dam Safety

For TVA, dam safety is a leading priority 24/7/365. Read more about what we’re doing every day to continuously monitor and improve the 49 dams in the Tennessee River system, as well as what you can do to stay safe near dams.

The Unified Development of the Tennessee River plan stressed TVA was to provide flood control, navigation and electricity for the region. TVAs dams are tangible evidence of its primary mission: improving life in the Tennessee Valley. We’re celebrating the plan with an in-depth look at 32 of the dams it comprises.