Navigation on the Tennessee River
Putting the waterway to work for the people of the TVA region
Navigation on the Tennessee River made possible by TVAs system of dams and locks has a significant impact on the economy of the TVA region. Actual savings vary from year to year depending on the volume and type of products shipped on the river. However, shipping goods by barge rather than by truck or rail reduces transportation costs by about $550 million each year. In addition, to compete with water transportation, railroads need to keep rates low, creating roughly another $500 million in savings for those who ship by rail or other alternatives to the river. This reduced cost means lower prices for consumers.
Because one barge can transport as much tonnage as 60 semi-trucks or 15 rail cars, water transportation also reduces highway traffic, fuel consumption, air pollution, wear and tear on highways, and the number of tires sent to landfills.
The route of the river
Click on the links below to find out more about this essential element of the regions transportation system, and how it affects the lives of people in the TVA region and across the nation.
Until TVA went to work in 1933, navigation on the Tennessee River was severely hampered by shoals, rapids and the effects of droughts and flooding. TVA created an open river road from Knoxville, Tenn., to Paducah, Ky., and the regions economy continues to benefit today.
From its beginning just above Knoxville, the Tennessee River drops a total of 513 feet in elevation before it joins the Ohio River. The TVA system of nine main-river dams allows boats to ascend or descend a staircase of quiet, pooled water and controlled current a continuous series of reservoirs that stretches the entire length of the Tennessee River.
Many industries in the TVA region owe their existence in large part to the availability of the waterway to move raw materials affordably, which means regular paychecks for thousands of the region's residents.
A chain of river ports links centers of industrial activity along the Tennessee River. In many cases, the river was the catalyst for industrial growth at these points.
The end result is a reliable transportation complex that is inexpensive and efficient to use. Efficient river transportation of food products for processing in the TVA region lowers the price of groceries for consumers nationwide, not just in the Southeast. The effects of money saved transporting goods here ripples across the entire economy. Thats why the TVA river system is a national as well as regional asset.
Locks along the Tennessee River waterway provide passage between reservoirs of more than 13,000 recreational craft each year.
- Check the status of the new Chickamauga Lock and the Kentucky Lock addition.
- Access the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Navigation Data Center and Navigation Information Connection.