A detailed study conducted by the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture has concluded the combination of aquatic recreation and waterfront property along the Tennessee Valley Authority’s managed river system creates $11.9 billion of annual economic impact – the equivalent of $1 million per shoreline mile.
In addition, the TVA-funded study found that TVA’s 49 reservoirs supported about 130,000 jobs annually.
“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,” said TVA Executive Vice President of Operations Mike Skaggs. “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.”
First developed to provide flood control, navigation, and hydroelectric power, TVA’s integrated development plan for the Tennessee River and its tributaries also provides boating, swimming, and fishing enthusiasts their choice of unique destinations across all seven states in its service area.
UT Institute of Agriculture researchers conducted in-depth surveys of visitors and property owners along three of TVA’s 49 reservoirs – Norris, Watts Bar and Chickamauga – during Summer 2016. Those reservoirs were chosen to represent urban, rural, and tributary reservoir classifications. From that cross-section, the survey data was then extrapolated to cover the entire river system.
The study was performed by a team of scientists from the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, including Neelam Poudyal, an assistant professor of natural resource policy, and Burton English, Kim Jensen, and Jamey Menard, all members of the UTIA Agri-Industry Modeling & Analysis Group. AIM-AG is well known for performing economic impact evaluations for industries and government entities.
Several graduate and undergraduate students also participated by conducting a mail survey of shoreline property owners as well as on-site surveys of reservoir visitors at public access points, including fishing piers, swimming areas, boat launches and commercial marinas. Responses from more than 1,100 recreational users were included in the study.
Mr. Poudyal, who specializes in the study of the human dimensions of natural resource policy, notes that TVA reservoirs provide tremendous outdoor opportunities to local and non-local visitors and visitors find their overall experiences highly satisfying. “Considering all the amenities that TVA reservoirs offer, the level of satisfaction among recreational users was relatively high – 75 percent,” he said.
Based on expenditures, the UTIA economists agreed. Mr. English remarked, “The study found that recreational visitors to the TVA reservoir system generate an average annual economic impact of $11.9 billion as well as more than 130,000 local jobs, $4.45 billion in labor income and $916 million in state and local taxes. And that doesn’t take every economic impact into consideration.”
For example, the UTIA study does not consider the additional economic impacts created by non-aquatic based recreation (camping, hunting, and hiking). The study also does not consider the additional economic benefits created by flood control or river transportation.
The positive contributions of the river system are in addition to TVA’s more formal economic development activities and partnerships, which contributed to more than $8 billion of capital investment and the creation or retention of more than 72,000 jobs in the Tennessee Valley last year alone.