Water for Everyone
A new water use study shows how and why people draw water from the Tennessee River system, and sheds light on TVA’s savvy water management abilities.
Weather across the Valley has been record-setting for the past 20 years. Anchored by the Tennessee River, the Valley has withstood the drought of record in 2007-2008 and the wettest year ever recorded in 2020. A recent study revealed how vital that water, or lack thereof, is to the Tennessee Valley and sheds more light on the uses and benefits of the Tennessee River System.
Almost 5.2 million people rely on the Tennessee River and its tributaries—the nation’s fifth-largest river system—for drinking water. In times of heavy rains or drought, TVA’s River Management Team works around the clock, managing the Tennessee River system to provide managed flows, cool water for nuclear and fossil plants, scheduled hydro generation, oxygenation and more.
The new TVA Water Usage study shows that, on average, 8.3 billion gallons of water were withdrawn daily from the Tennessee River Watershed in 2020. That may sound like a lot, but the same study concluded that 95 percent of that water is returned back to the river system. It is used for such benefits as public water, irrigation, industrial supply and thermoelectric cooling.
Where the Water Goes
The majority of the water is used for thermoelectric cooling, with nearly 100 percent of that water returned back to the river. The least amount of water is used for irrigation, with usage increasing over 36 percent in the previous 20 years. None of this water is returned to the river.
The second and third largest water usage sources are industrial supply and municipal supply. They return 94 percent and 75 percent respectively.
Recycling the water and managing the river in this way requires balance. From energy production and public recreational needs to navigation, flood control and water quality and supply, each component for managing the river is balanced based on overall public benefit.
And the balance is a successful one. In an average year, TVA prevents about $309 million in flood damage in the TVA region and along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers through the operation of its dams. Over the years, TVA has helped avert more than $9.7 billion in flood damage from Tennessee Valley storms, demonstrating the value of its dam system and river operations.
Page updated February 15, 2023 with data from Water Use in the Tennessee Valley for 2020 and Projected Use in 2045.