Managing the Tennessee River for Multiple Benefits

Though the system of dams in the Tennessee Valley was originally designed primarily for navigation, flood control and power production, today it is managed for additional benefits including water supply, water quality and recreation.

In the past, swings in the amount of rainfall in the Tennessee Valley left the region prone to cycles of flooding and drought. TVA’s first task was to even out those extremes, building a system of dams and lakes to control flooding, generate power and create a system of water management that harnessed the water for the greatest possible public good.

Today, TVA's River Forecast Center (see info at right) operates its system of dams and reservoirs to generate power, control flooding, support a navigable waterway, provide recreation and maintain a generous supply of clean water to sustain plant, animal and human life in our Valley. 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 Control

High dams on deep tributary lakes have the capacity to hold most of the run-off water in the system. After a flood threat has passed, stored water from the lakes is released downstream to maintain water levels needed for navigation, recreation, power production and water quality on the main channel. Read more about TVA's flood-control mission.


Thirteen locks along the 650-mile length of the Tennessee River move 28,000 barges yearly, carrying 45 million tons of goods and saving consumers $400 million in transportation costs. To keep commerce rolling on the river, TVA maintains a minimum 11-foot-deep channel.

Power Production

Twenty-nine of TVA’s dams produce electricity by allowing water to flow through turbines located in the base of the dams. 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.


It’s fun to paddle, raft and fish in the Valley's 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; mountain biking a rugged trail stirs the spirit. Read more about recreation on TVA lands and lakes.

Water Quality

We all want water to taste good and keep us healthy. TVA monitors and adjusts flows to meet water temperature and dissolved oxygen levels for our own heath, as well as the health of the other species that share our water systems. Read more about TVA and water quality.

Water Supply

Some 4.7 million people get their drinking water from the Tennessee River. An additional 700 million gallons are withdrawn for public use and 1.1 billion gallons enable industrial production each day. About 10 billion gallons per day are used in generation of non-hydropower energy. Read more about how TVA manages water supply.


The River Forecast Center

Forget the Weather Channel. TVA’s River Forecast Center—located in Knoxville, Tenn.—is staffed around the clock, 365 days a year, monitoring the river to fight flooding, as well as monitor water quality data, support power generation, promote navigation and create recreational opportunities—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.

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.