Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century

Editor's Note: APWA developed the Top Ten Public Works Projects of the Century Program to honor the ten most outstanding public works projects of the 20th Century that significantly affected and improved the quality of life in the United States or Canada. Our goal was to generate awareness of the positive contributions public works has made as well as to build appreciation for public works and its contributions to North America.

The APWA Reporter will highlight each of the outstanding projects through the October 2001 issue. This issue features the Tennessee Valley Project.

Tennessee Valley Project

Managing Agency: Tennessee Valley Authority

Nominated by: Tennessee Chapter of APWA

The Tennessee Valley Project began in 1933 by the federal government after the passing of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was established after President Roosevelt sent a request to Congress for a new kind of federal agency. He requested that this agency "be charged with the broadest duty of planning for the proper use, conservation, and development of the natural resources of the Tennessee River drainage basin and its adjoining territory for the general, social, and economic welfare of the nation."

The Tennessee Valley Project changed the entire 80,000 square-mile region in the Tennessee River basin with the eventual construction of 29 hydroelectric dams and 11 coal-fired power plants. The dams controlled flooding, improved river navigation, and generated electricity. The most dramatic change in Valley life came from the electricity generated from the dams. Prior to this time, only three percent of the farms in the region had electricity. After the project began, electric service was expanded into many urban and rural areas. The availability of electricity helped improve the efficiency of the farmers and their families. The farmers quickly demonstrated how the use of electrical equipment could save money and labor, while increasing productivity and improving living conditions.

The construction of the dam also brought flood control and improvement in soil conservation and erosion control. The use of common row crops such as tobacco and corn over decades had left the soils stripped of nutrients and in a condition where heavy rains continuously washed the soils from the lands into the rivers. These conditions made farming in the region more difficult each year. TVA worked with the farmers and established soil erosion assistance and guidelines that helped to stabilize and improve soil conditions that resulted in better crops and income for farmers.

The vast availability of electricity also brought new industries into the area that served to provide an economic boost to the entire region with the employment of many workers that had previously earned a meager living solely from the crops their farms produced. Their incomes had previously varied from year to year depending on weather and soil conditions. This changed as workers were able to obtain jobs at various factories or commercial stores thereby acquiring constant and steady incomes around which they could plan their life styles.

The construction of the dams allowed TVA to control and manage the depths of rivers. This provided more than 650 miles of navigable waterways on which boats and barges could transport goods and commodities from the Ohio River along the Tennessee River through Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. This allowed factories and industries in the region to gain easier access to the raw materials needed in the operation of the industries and provide a quicker means of moving their products to markets located elsewhere in the country.

The Tennessee Valley Project forever changed and improved the environment and economic standards in the entire region and throughout the United States.