We are following up on the cost of February's flooding, which cost nearly $152 million in Tennessee in damage to infrastructure, roads and the emergency staffing needed at the local and state level. That's according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

The cost and damage could have been worse.

TVA stored trillions of gallons of water during the February flooding period with their dam system.

However, flooding still occurred, causing $2 million in damage in Hamilton County alone, which does not include additional residential property damage or impacts to state highways.

This cost could have been in the billions without the dams.

TVA has 49 dams along the Tennessee River system. Their River Forecast Center controls the system as a whole, storing and releasing water to maintain flood control.

In Chattanooga, the river reached flood stage at 30 feet in February.

According to TVA models, it could have reached 49 feet without the dams.

"Engineers compiled all the data into something called the Natural Model. That's the model that if TVA did not exist, there were no dams in place to hold back water during these times of flooding, this is what would occur in the Valley. You would see $1.6 billion worth of damage to structures," Malinda Hunter, a TVA spokesperson, explained.

Across the entire Tennessee Valley, which extends from southwest Virginia through Tennessee into Alabama and eventually Kentucky, $1.6 billion in damages was avoided.

TVA estimates, without the dams, $1.4 billion of that total cost would have occurred in Chattanooga alone.

Upstream in Knoxville, potential damages could have reached $2.4 million.

That places Chattanooga at a significantly bigger financial risk—almost 600 times the risk Knoxville would face.

"If you look at the cities across the Tennessee Valley, where Chattanooga sits is just before the gorge narrows and the river narrows, so water pools up here. And, Chattanooga was a very flood prone area back before the dams were built," Hunter said.

Models show Chattanooga's downtown would have been the most impacted area along with the Chattanooga Airport.

Part of Marion County would also have been under water.

"Chattanooga is just upstream from South Pittsburg. South Pittsburg is a much smaller city, but $62 million in damages were averted there. And that just shows what a huge impact the river has on the potential flood ability for your area," Hunter stated.

The averted cost totals were for structures only, based on tax records and property assessments. They do not include additional infrastructure and economic losses.

The ability to proactively hold back water with dams across the Tennessee River Basin has allowed the city of Chattanooga to grow.

For our area, there were five counties in Tennessee that were hit hard by the February flooding and were part of the Preliminary Damage Assessments performed jointly by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, TEMA and local EMAs.

The below costs are for county roads, utilities, other infrastructure and implemented county emergency protective measures. They do not include damages to residential property or state highways.

  • Bledsoe:  $624,000
  • Hamilton:  $2,000,000
  • Marion:  $417,000
  • Rhea:  $510,000
  • Sequatchie:  $56,000

All these totals are above the counties' federal per capita loss indicators which were used when Tennessee Governor Bill Lee requested a Major Disaster Declaration.