Cochise College                    Student Papers in Geology

Geology Home Page                         physical geology  historical geology  planetary  gems           

Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Hannah Adams
Physical Geology
Fall 2015  

                                          Tennessee Valley Authority


     During the great depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act on May 18th, 1933. He signed the act to make the New Deal save America from the Great Depression. This creative solution was put in motion from Roosevelt and urged congress to make the agency "with the power of the government but possessed..the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.(4)" It was originally created to give cheaper electricity to the townspeople, create more jobs, and helping families in the Great Depression.

     In the valleys above the Dams were settled by families for two hundred years and when the Great Depression hit the bigger cities, many who had left came back to their homes. From this increase of people from 1930 to 1935 making a living off the land proved difficult.  The Tennessee Valley Authority was meant to give these people jobs and a better life. For the most part it did: It raised the standard of living for about three and a half million people but it also flooded their old homes. The farm owners got cash settlements for their old property and some help finding new property. The tenants, who the farmers rented their land too, ended up with nothing. Almost "one in five had a family member who found work for TVA" and the majority of these families moved into neighboring counties that had the same problem with overcrowding and poor farming conditions they hoped to escape in their old homes. (2)

Use of Fertilizer

Photo courtesy of

     The dams were built for the benefit of controlling flooding, helping people out of poverty, and ultimately, America recover from the Great Depression. Ironically, it flooded and ruined more land than it protected, people receiving the electricity from TVA was questionable quality, and had an unimportant impact on the Great Depression.

     The TVA also took control of mines and in the 1850's, trees were chopped down to provide fuel for the burning and purification of copper ore. This process released high concentrations of sulfur dioxide and is toxic to plant life. It would also "rain down" as sulfuric acid later which had a devastating effect on the trees. Once the trees were gone it destroyed the rest of the vegetation. By 1878, 32,000 acres, or 50 square miles were effected and severe erosion in 23,000 acres. Without trees and other plants to protect the topsoil eroded and huge gullies formed. Topsoil and subsoil were carried into the three reservoirs of the Ocoee River by deep gullies carved in the earth. It also damaged the power plants there and as a result the fish and aquatic life to disappear. (7)

            Right after the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933, they began reviving the soil. First, the planted millions of trees but all the productive soil and organic matter was gone. As a result, the soil could not hold water or plant life. The pH of the water at Davis Mill Creek was very acidic: between 2.5 and 3.5. Also, the gullies made it impossible to use conventional equipment to prepare it for seeding along with more than 15 million tons of mining waste in the Davis Mill Creek drainage basin.


(Brightly colored colloidal iron precipitates coat the stream bed and anything that enters it.)

Photo courtesy of

            The soil was treated with lime, and loosened the soil to a depth of two feet where bulldozers could fit. In a combination of helicopters and people distributing seeds, fertilizer, trees and shrubs.

            Overall about 11,025 acres have been returned to use after all this time, and the annual rate of soil erosion had dropped from 200 tons per acre to eight tons. The Cantrell Flats Wastewater Treatment Plan has successfully removed 5,975,806 pounds of iron, zinc, manganese, copper, lead and cadmium along with neutralizing 13,935,382 pounds of acid from 1.9 billion gallons of contaminated water. (6) Native fish were reintroduced to the streams that were beginning to recover. The Copper Basin particularly has shown that restoring nature is possible, but it wasn't worth harming the environment or whose lives it affected to establish the Tennessee Valley Authority.