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Valley Lakes Worth Billions

A study from TVA and the University of Tennessee shows that the annual value of recreation on the Tennessee River reservoir system for the region is nearly $12 billion.

February 25, 2020—Imagine the perfect May morning has dawned, a Saturday with 14 carefree hours of daylight sprawled before you and a weather forecast calling for clear skies and highs in the mid-80s. What to do?

If you live in or around the Tennessee Valley, the answer is clear: You head for the lake.

First, though, you must undergo the ritual preparations. The wrangling of the life jackets and swimsuits and fishing gear. The patronage of the bait shop. The buying of sodas, chips, hot dogs, buns, ice and water. The gassing up of the boat (or rental of one). And—oops—the last-minute pick-up of the sunscreen you forgot at home. Altogether, you may have laid out $75 or $100 in cash—that’s a pretty good deal considering you can keep you family afloat and having fun all day long...and that lake access itself is perfectly free.

Thousands of Tennessee Valley residents and visitors are doing the same thing every day throughout the recreation season, and the benefits to the regional economy are staggering. According to a study by TVA and the University of Tennessee's Institute of Agriculture, the economic impact to the region of recreation on TVA’s reservoir system amounts to $11.9 billion a year. Furthermore, the study revealed that there are approximately 130,000 jobs associated with this recreation.

“TVA is committed to clean air, clean water and historical, environmental and cultural protection,” says Mike Skaggs, executive vice president of Operations. “This means TVA employees take great care of its reservoir system and 11,000 miles of shoreline. We’re very proud to have contributed this great boost to the Valley, and to be able to show the value of our work.

“The UTIA study clearly establishes a strong link between the recreational opportunities our reservoirs create and improving the economic opportunities for the nine million people we serve every day.”

Recreation Consideration

TVA contracted with UT’s Institute of Agriculture to conduct the study during the 2016 recreation season (April-September). Historically, TVA has never been able to put a solid number on just how much its support and maintenance of 49 reservoirs with recreation access helps the Valley on a yearly basis.

“The goal of this study was to establish that number,” explains Rebecca Hayden, recreation senior manager with TVA Natural Resources. “We knew it would be a lot, but it’s amazing to see that it’s $11.9 billion—with a B! That’s a million dollars per shoreline mile.”

The study considered three reservoirs that are representative of those managed by TVA: one urban main-stem reservoir (Chickamauga, near Chattanooga), one rural main-stem reservoir (Watts Bar) and one tributary reservoir (Norris). Expenditures considered in the study included entertainments, retail purchases, food and beverages, rental fees, hunting/fishing/camping supplies and souvenirs. In addition, shoreline property owners—who accounted for $1 billion of the $11.9 billion total—were asked about dock and shoreline maintenance expenditures, watercraft purchases, access/marina fees, property taxes and improvements, such as landscaping or the building of boathouses, docks, patios or decks.

In total, the study accounted for 16.46 million visitor days among property owners, and 48.79 visitor days among visitor, for a total of 65.53 million total visitor days to its reservoir system.

Million Dollar Miles

Given that TVA manages 11,000 of shoreline, the $11.9 billion sum breaks down rather neatly to approximately $1 million per shoreline mile. This provides a snapshot value for each reservoir in TVA’s system. The table below provides a sampling of values for some significant reservoirs.


ReservoirEstimated Value in Millions of Dollars
Blue Ridge$68.1
Fort Loudoun$360.7
Fort Patrick Henry$18.0
Great Falls$125.2
Melton Hill$199.2
Ocoee No. 1 (Parksville)$48.0
South Holston$181.1
Tims Ford$276.9
Watts Bar$752.4

Recreation falls under TVA’s environment mission—and the study results clearly reflect its economic development mission as well.

It speaks to the core purpose behind everything that TVA does: Making life better for people in the Tennessee Valley. To read more about the study, click here.

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