Tellico Dam: Before & After

In 1978, TVA's Tellico Dam, located in Loudon County, Tennessee, became the subject of controversy. The original purpose of the dam was not for power production, but water recreation and economic development. The plan was to enact eminent domain to 16,000 acres of land, then create a huge lake as well as new waterfront building developments that would bring more businesses and more jobs so that the region could prosper financially.

Tellico Dam
Tellico Dam

But farmers, environmentalists, biologists and Native Americans all protested. If the dam were built, farmers said, they would lose thousands of acres of fertile farmland. Cherokee Indians were angry because the building of the dam would cause them to lose sacred sites. The more successful of the protesters, however, were the scientists, or aquatic biologists. They found a little fish in the Little Tennessee River called the Snail Darter, which was originally discovered by D.A. Etnier in 1973. It was originally listed on the endangered species list in November 1975, and the biologists knew that the Endangered Species Act of 1973 prohibited actions that would lead to a species' extinction.

Although the Snail Darter was found in a few other streams and rivers in the Tennessee River system, it was still rare, and the Little Tennessee River contained a more highly suitable habitat of all the rivers where the fish occured at that time. Fish were moved to other rivers where they did not previously occur in an attempt to keep this species from going extinct. Aside from the Snail Darter, hundreds of other aquatic species were eliminated from the reach of the river impounded by Tellico Dam, including fish, mussels, crayfish and Snails. Though the dam was already 95 percent built, the scientists took their fight to the government to stop its completion. Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, however, said that tearing the dam down would cost the local people more money than completing it would, and he supported an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would allow the completion of the dam and the possible extinction of the Snail Darter. President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that contained the amendment, and Tellico Dam was completed. While many farmers, environmentalists, scientists and Native Americans still hold negative feelings toward TVA for building Tellico Dam, its completion didn't spell the end of the Snail Darter. The fish was later discovered in other parts of the Tennessee River.

Telico Dam BVI

Terms and Definitions

ActThe formal product of a legislative body: statute; also: a decision or determination of a sovereign, a legislative council, or a court of justice.
AsbestosAny of several minerals (as chrysotile) that readily separate into long flexible fibers, that cause asbestosis and have been implicated as causes of certain cancers, and that have been used especially formerly as fireproof insulating material.
Atomic BombA bomb whose violent explosive power is due to the sudden release of energy resulting from the splitting of nuclei of a heavy chemical element (as plutonium or uranium) by neutrons in a very rapid chain reaction--also called atom bomb.
BillA form or draft of a proposed statute presented to a legislature, but not yet enacted or passed and made law.
BiodiversityTotal amount of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region.
BiologistA scientist who studies living organisms.
BlackoutThe total loss of power to an area resulting from power stations tripping, and may last from a few minutes to a few weeks depending on the nature of the blackout and the configuration of the electrical network.
Coal EnergyNon-renewable energy from firing pulverized coal, which is used to produce half of the nation's electrical energy needs.
Coal Fired PlantA power station that burns fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas or petroleum (oil) to produce electricity.
Douglas DamA hydroelectric dam on the French Broad River in Sevier County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The dam is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which built the dam in record time in the early 1940s to meet emergency energy demands at the height of World War II.
EconomistA social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, economic theory, principles, or practices.
EcosystemThe complex community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit
Eminent DomainThe power of the state to purchase private property for public use with payment of compensation to the owner.
Endangered Species ActOne of the dozens of U.S. environmental laws passed in the 1970s. This act was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction due to unchecked economic growth and development.
EnvironmentalistOne who is concerned about environmental quality, especially of the human environment with respect to the control of pollution.
Fat ManThe code name for the plutonium-core, implosion-type atom bomb the U.S. first tested and then dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.
Fontana DamA TVA-operated hydroelectric dam on the Little Tennessee River in Swain County and Graham County, N.C. The dam was built in the early 1940s to accommodate the skyrocketing electricity demands in the Tennessee Valley at the height of World War II.
Fossil FuelAny combustible organic material derived from the remains of former life. Coal, oil and natural gas currently provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, nearly two-thirds of our electricity, and virtually all of our transportation fuels.
Great DepressionThe economic crisis and period of low business activity in the U.S. and other countries, roughly beginning with the stock-market crash in October 1929, and continuing through most of the 1930s.
GypsumA widely distributed mineral consisting of hydrous calcium sulfate that is used especially as a soil amendment and in making plaster of paris. Also known as drywall.
HabitatThe place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows.
Hydroelectric PowerThe most widely used form of renewable energy; hydroelectric power is derived from the force or energy of moving water.
Kilowatt1,000 watts of power.
Kilowatt HourA measure of energy equaling 1 kilowatt of power running for an hour. If you run a 60W light bulb for 1 hour, you use 60 watt hours of energy.
LegislationThe act of making or enacting laws.
LifecycleThe series of stages in form and functional activity through which an organism passes between successive recurrences of a specified primary stage.
Little BoyThe code name for the uranium-fueled atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima in 1945.
NicheA habitat supplying the factors necessary for the existence of an organism or species.
Norris DamA hydroelectric and flood control structure located on the Clinch River in Anderson County and Campbell County, Tennessee. Its construction in the mid-1930s was the first major project for the TVA, which had been created in 1933 to bring economic development to the region and control the rampant flooding that had long plagued the Tennessee Valley.
Nuclear EnergyEnergy released by reactions within atomic nuclei, as in nuclear fission or fusion.
Particle BoardA composition board made of very small pieces of wood bonded together.
PetitionA formally drawn request, often bearing the names of a number of those making the request that is addressed to a person or group of persons in authority or power, soliciting some favor, right, mercy, or other benefit.
Power GridA network of conductors for distribution of electric power.
SalaryA fixed compensation periodically paid to a person for regular work or services.
Snail DarterA darter (Percina tanasi) of the Tennessee River drainage system of eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia.
Steam TurbineA mechanical device that extracts thermal energy from pressurized steam and converts it into rotary motion.
Tellico DamA dam built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Loudon County, Tennessee on the Little Tennessee River just above the main stem of the Tennessee River. Construction of the dam was controversial and marks a turning point in American attitudes toward dam construction.
Trophic LevelA trophic level of an organism is its position in a food chain. Levels are numbered according to how far particular organisms are along the chain from the primary producers [plants] at level 1, to herbivores (level 2), to predators (level 3), to carnivores or top carnivores (level 4 or 5).
TVAThe Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, is the largest public power company in the United States. TVA carefully manages one of the nation's largest river systems to reduce flood damage, make rivers easier to travel, provide power, provide recreation, and keep the water clean.
WageThe share of the products of industry received by labor for its work.
WallboardA structural boarding of any of various materials (as wood pulp, gypsum, or plastic) made in large rigid sheets and used especially for sheathing interior walls and ceilings.
Zero Carbon FootprintRefers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset.

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Environmental Stewardship

Fossil Plants

Green Power

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Modern Living

Nuclear Plants



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