In a typical year, the Tennessee Valley averages 52 inches of rain, or nearly 72% more than the U.S. average. But in the past three years, Mother Nature has dumped an average of more than 67.25 inches on rainfall a year in the Tennessee River region, or more than double the rest of the nation’s average, according to the National Weather Service.
The extra precipitation hasn’t hurt the sunny outlook for cities like Chattanooga, however. In fact, all that water — most of which drains through Chattanooga on the Tennessee River — provides plenty of liquidity for the local economy.
As the drainage route for 21,400 square miles of East Tennessee, Northeast Georgia and parts of Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky, the Tennessee River carries a minimum of 8.5 billion gallons of water a day through Chattanooga and sometimes much more. All that water has been an economic lifeline for the Scenic City, providing drinking water, river recreation and scenery, hydroelectric power and barge transportation to meet the needs of both local residents and industry that has developed or been drawn to the Chattanooga area because of the river.
TVA reshapes the region with the river
The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public power utility created in 1933 to harness the power of the Tennessee River, estimates its water management efforts generate $11.9 billion of annual economic impact along the 652-mile length of the Tennessee River, or more than $1 million per shoreline mile along the nation’s fifth biggest river. A TVA-funded study of the Tennessee River by the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture estimates that TVA’s reservoirs support over 130,000 jobs in TVA’s seven-state region.
“TVA’s mission has been to improve the lives of the Valley and our integrated river management system is one of the cornerstones of our efforts,” says Mike Skaggs, executive vice president of operations for TVA.
In addition to those recreational benefits, the river’s navigation route for barges to ship agricultural products, raw materials and manufactured goods helps save more than $400 million a year in transportation costs. The 13 locks along the Tennessee River provide passage for more than 25,000 barges a year, each carrying up to 50 tons of goods along the water route. More than than 6,000 boats and recreational vessels also go through the river locks every year.
In Chattanooga, the aging 81-year-old Chickamauga Lock is being replaced with a new and bigger lock. The $757 million new lock chamber is scheduled to open by April 2024. Despite the nearly doubling of its costs from the original proposal nearly two decades ago, the new lock is projected to have an annual economic payback of $52.9 million in lower transportation costs.
TVA’s 29 hydroelectric dams on the river also help supply more than 10% of the utility’s electricity, valued at nearly $1 billion a year as TVA’s cheapest energy supply. The pumped…