Study assesses Tennessee River impact at nearly $12 billion
Posted May 10
FLORENCE, Ala. — The Tennessee Valley Authority has long recognized the advantages of the Tennessee River as a power source, but a new TVA-funded study looked at the river's value from a different aspect.
The University of Tennessee study concluded the river is worth billions annually, based on its recreational and waterfront property worth.
The study, from the university's Institute of Agriculture, concluded those two aspects account for an annual economic impact of $11.9 billion along TVA's managed river system.
That is the equivalent of $1 million for every mile of shoreline along the system, according to the study.
In addition, the recreational and waterfront property uses along the reservoirs account for 130,000 jobs annually, according to the findings.
Mike Staggs, TVA's executive vice president of operations, said the study reveals that this is another way TVA's reservoirs help the agency meet its mission.
"Since its beginnings nearly 84 years ago, TVA's mission has been to improve the lives of those in the Valley, and our integrated river management system is one of the cornerstones of our efforts," Staggs said. "The UTIA study clearly establishes a strong link between the recreational opportunities our reservoirs create, and improving the economic opportunities for the 9 million people we serve every day."
Suzie Shoemaker, Florence-Lauderdale Tourism's sports marketing and special events planner, said she sees the recreational impact daily.
"Before I came to work here at the tourism office, I had no idea it had such an impact," Shoemaker said. "Having grown up here, I took the river for granted. We're very fortunate we have so much shoreline property that people have grown to love as their homes.
"We see a lot of people who come through here on their way to somewhere else, and they'll dock and they fall in love with the area, and end up staying several days and enjoying our city."
She said the Shoals is a popular stop for "loopers," which is the term for boaters who travel America's Great Loop, a 7,500-mile journey that encircles the eastern United States.
In addition, the recreational vehicle campground at McFarland Park in Florence is a popular place with a view of the river.
"The campground is beautiful, and a lot of people love to come and stay there," Shoemaker said.
Florence Mayor Steve Holt said the river's beauty is an attraction for people wanting to come here for recreational purposes, or to live close to it.
"Folks who live here all their lives maybe take the river for granted," Holt said. "You have a different perspective when you see it for the first time. It'll just take your breath away, and what it means to our community is phenomenal."
He said the river is the Shoals' interstate.
"You can go anywhere in the world from here," Holt said. "It takes commercial traffic, leisure traffic and sporting traffic. Everything about the river defines us."
An additional riverside addition, Inspiration Landing, is being planned for Sheffield. Developers said the attraction will include an amphitheater, an event center, a city center with local shops, restaurants and a theater, a resort hotel, a 325-slip marina, and a residential component.
In managing the University of Tennessee study, researchers conducted surveys last summer of visitors and property owners along Norris, Watts Bar and Chickamauga reservoirs, according to a TVA release. They extrapolated those results to cover the 49 reservoirs in the Valley's system.
It included on-site surveys of reservoir visitors at public access locations, such as fishing piers, swimming areas, boat launches and marinas, the release stated. The study included responses from more than 1,100 recreational users.
The study asked shoreline property owners about their annual expenditures for maintenance or the docks, their purchases of watercraft, their marina fees, their taxes, their construction and improvement projects.
Burton English, a member of the Agri-Industry Modeling and Analysis Group at Tennessee's Institute of Agriculture, said the study also revealed the reservoirs produced $4.45 billion in labor income, and $916 million in state and local taxes annually.
"And that doesn't take every economic impact into consideration," English said.
As examples, the study did not consider non-aquatic recreation activities, such as hunting and hiking.