TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE
Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter
Tennessee Valley Authority
The Tennessee Valley, drained by the Tennessee River and its tributaries, is an area of approximately 41,000 square miles, including parts of seven States - Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. The major portion of the valley lies in Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Authority was created by Congress in 1933 to develop the Tennessee River system in the interest of navigation, flood control, and national defense, and to generate and sell surplus electricity to avert waste of water power. Properties in the vicinity of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, were transferred to the Authority. TVA's integrated water control program requires not alone the proper use of water resources, but, of necessity, the conservation and preservation of the land resources of the region.
The TVA is an independent Government corporation managed by a board of directors. Its activities are directed from headquarters at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, though administrative offices have been set up elsewhere as needed. A contact office, with a small staff, is maintained in Washington, D. C.
The Muscle Shoals project in Alabama, with the Wilson Dam and power house, and the two nitrate plants, was begun as a war measure under the National Defense Act of 1916. Actual construction, however, did not start until late in 1918, and the war was over before the project could be carried out. The problem of what to do with this wartime investment remained unsolved until the project was incorporated into the general program of the TVA.
A significant element in the creation of the TVA was the establishment of a regional authority transcending State lines. In taking this action Congress showed an awareness of the growing trend toward regional and national planning and an understanding of the fact that many of the problems of the Tennessee Valley could not be solved by the States acting alone.
For more than a century the Federal Government has promoted navigation in its inland waterways. Flood control is intimately related to navigation improvement. Effective measures require Federal rather than State or local action, and call for the expenditure of large sums for construction work. The development of electricity through water power, as Theodore Roosevelt pointed out more than forty years ago, provides a potential source of income with which the costs of both navigation and flood control may be met.
In carrying out the purposes for which it was created, the TVA has undertaken three general, interrelated programs: control and proper use of water resources, conservation and preservation of land resources, and a more widespread use of electrical power. Its work has been carried on with the cooperation of many Federal and State agencies, particularly the agricultural extension services of the land grant colleges and universities.
Specifically, the control of water resources called for the construction of a system of dams. These are designed to maintain a nine-foot navigation channel from Paducah, Kentucky, to Knoxville, Tennessee - a distance of about 650 miles - and to reduce destructive floods. Four dams are already completed: Wilson Dam (finished before the creation of the TVA) and Wheeler Dam (1936), in Alabama; Pickwick Landing Dam (1938) on the Tennessee, and Norris Dam (1936) on the Clinch River in Tennessee. Hale's Bar Dam, also in Tennessee, which was bought from private interests in August 1939, is being tied in with the general control system. Five dams are now under. construction: Guntersville, in Alabama; Chickamauga, in Tennessee; Hiwassee, in North Carolina; Gilbertsville, in Kentucky; and Watts Bar, in Tennessee. Projects proposed by the TVA, but not yet begun, are Coulter Shoals, in Tennessee; and Fontana, North Carolina.
Electric power, generated at the completed dams, was being sold at wholesale (as of September 1, 1939) to nearly 100 municipalities, and cooperative associations, seeing more than 325,000 consumers. The Authority was distributing power directly to retail consumers in four areas on a temporary basis, pending transfer of the systems to local agencies. In addition, four large industrial companies were using TVA power under individual contracts. As provided in the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, power is sold to consumers at low rates. Experience of municipalities and corporations distributing TVA power has shown that this results in increased consumption and affords a fair and useful comparison of how much the public should pay for electric service. Special attention has been given to promoting the use of electricity in rural areas. Almost 7,000 miles of rural line were in operation on June 30, 1939, most of them owned and operated by cooperative associations and municipalities. More than 85 per cent of the total represented the construction of new lines carrying power to areas previously without service. The usual procedure, the Authority reports, has been for the Rural Electrification Administration to lend the capital, and for TVA or some other agency to build the line, under contract with the local body which operates it.
Cooperation with other Federal agencies has been more strikingly developed in carrying out the third general division of the TVA program - conservation and preservation of land resources. This has meant, by implication, measures for promoting the welfare of the population of the valley estimated at 2,500,000, with an additional 4,00,000 persons inside the sphere of its influence. The U. S. Department of Agriculture, including the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the Forest Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and State agricultural experiment stations and extension services are among the agencies that are working with the TVA, through local organizations of farmers, to carry out a well-rounded program of rehabilitation for both the land itself and for its people.
Improved types of phosphate fertilizer, produced at Muscle Shoals, are tested and demonstrated by farmers in soil-conserving and fertility-building practices. The neighbors, who select the test-demonstrators, adapt results to their own farms. Legume cover crops and terracing are used. Land devastated by gully erosion is reforested.
The effects of this land-use program on the lives of the people are obvious. The region is predominantly agricultural and, as the productiveness of the farms decreases, the plight of their owners becomes ever more desperate. The availability of improved phosphates for large-scale tests and demonstrations and of low cost electricity is enabling farmers to work out procedures aimed at a sustained agriculture, to reduce drudgery in the home and on the farm, and to enjoy modern conveniences that electricity makes possible.
Educational and recreational programs have been established in cooperation with local educational agencies for TVA employees and their families in the towns that lie within the Authority's jurisdiction. Perhaps less important, but nonetheless significant, are the opportunities for employment on the construction projects and the standards set by the TVA in handling its large labor force. Workers are employed on the basis of special tests developed in cooperation with the United States Civil Service Commission. They are entitled to organize according to their own preferences, and labor and management work together on employee problems. Since construction work is necessarily temporary, the TVA's job training program not only contributes to work efficiency but allows employees to prepare themselves for other work when the TVA job is finished. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1938, approximately 8,000 job training meetings were held with an attendance of 63,071, and 4,034 adult education meetings drew an attendance of 79,129.
All possible assistance is given to families forced to move from the reservoir areas. Records indicate that, in general, they have improved their lot. In moving these people, due regard was paid to their natural feelings, for in many cases they left homes occupied by their families for more than a century. The story is told of one family who resisted removal because it would entail extinguishing the hearth fire that had been burning continuously for three generations. The TVA cut the Gordian knot by keeping the fire going while it moved the family to its new home.
In its program for flood and navigation control, for land reclamation, and for cheap electric light and power the TVA is substituting order and design for haphazard, unplanned, and unintegrated development. Through its social and educational activities it is bringing to this region a consciousness of its own rich natural and human resources. But the results of this program may be even more far reaching. "If we are successful here," said President Roosevelt in his Message to Congress on Muscle Shoals, "we can march on, step by step, in a like development of other great natural territorial units within our borders." For this, as well as its more tangible objectives, the TVA is of national importance.
Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter
TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE