The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created as a federal corporation in May 1933 in order to develop the Tennessee River and its tributaries for the purpose of navigation, flood control, and the production and distribution of electricity. It also provided reforestation, erosion control, industrial and community development, improved farming techniques, fertilizer development, and establishment of recreational facilities. Today it remains a principal manager of water resources across a large, regional river basin.
The TVA achieved success quickly by using a unique problem-solving approach toward resource management. Each issue was broadly studied and
The Norris Dam on the Clinch River was one of the first dams built by the TVA. The dam—named after Senator George William Norris of Nebraska, the creator of the TVA—was completed in 1936.
The TVA created desperately needed jobs for thousands of workers with the construction of dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries. In addition, the TVA taught farmers how to improve crop yields, produced fertilizers, helped replant forests, controlled forest fires, and improved wildlife and fish habitats.
The generation of electricity from TVA hydropower dams made the most striking change in life within the valley as electric lights and appliances made area businesses and farmers more productive. The presence of electricity also brought new industries into the region, adding more jobs. TVA activities helped to improve the area's economy by increasing wages, improving public health, and adding employment opportunities.
During World War II (from 1939 to 1945), the United States used aluminum to build airplanes, weapons, and other necessary war materials. In response, the TVA began one of the largest U.S. hydropower construction programs ever undertaken in order to provide electricity for aluminum plants. At the zenith of the TVA war effort early in 1942, twelve hydroelectric projects and a steam plant were simultaneously under construction, and employment totaled 28,000 workers.
After the Depression and war years, the TVA continued its presence in the Tennessee Valley with the building of low-cost, coal-fired and nuclear power plants to supplement its hydroelectric power. It also developed recreational areas and reservoirs, expanded its electricity transmission and distribution system, and contributed to valley society in general.
Today, the fifty dams operated and maintained by the TVA control floods, provide electricity, increase water supply, and provide recreational lakes. In addition, the nine major dams on the main course of the Tennessee River create a series of lakes that form one long navigation channel from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky. The channel has a length of 1,045 kilometers (650 miles) and an average depth of about 2.7 meters (9 feet). About 34,000 barges annually travel the Tennessee River—the equivalent of two million semi-trailer trucks on the roads.
Twenty other TVA dams function on tributaries of the Tennessee River, storing excess water in flood season and lowering flood levels on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee Rivers. The flood-controlling efforts of the TVA prevent an estimated $194 million in annual damage to areas adjoining the Tennessee River, as well as another $21 million in possible losses along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
The TVA is the largest U.S. public power company with twenty-nine hydroelectric dams These dams distribute electricity over an area of about 207,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles), consisting of 8 million users within Tennessee, and portions of Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and Alabama. The TVA system annually produces over 125 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, more than 90 times the electricity produced in 1933.
In cooperation with state and other agencies, the TVA conducts research and development programs in watershed protection, water and air quality control, and wildlife and fish preservation. In addition, in cooperation with citizen associations, the TVA encourages the economic development of Tennessee Valley tributary areas. Its innovative loan and industrial-incentive programs allow regional companies to expand and outside companies to relocate to the Tennessee Valley. More than one hundred communities with flood problems have been helped by the TVA, which has offered technical guidance and built improved channels and detention dams.
The TVA protects and improves water quality and aquatic life in the Tennessee River system. Engineers and scientists monitor water conditions and identify pollution problems in specific watersheds. These teams of experts work with landowners, government officials, interest groups, and local communities and businesses to find ways to protect water quality without limiting the river's other uses. In 1994, TVA initiated a Clean Water Initiative, under which scientific teams identify pollution problems in specific watersheds and help organize local coalitions to find solutions.
William Arthur Atkins
Neal, Harry Edward. The People's Giant: The Story of TVA. New York: J. Messner,1970.
Tennessee Valley Authority. Homepage of the Tennessee Valley Authority. <http://www.tva.gov/> .