Keeping Chattanooga Dry
It would be hard to find a place in the Tennessee Valley that has never had a flood, but Chattanooga has suffered the most.
Why is Chattanooga so prone to flooding? Primarily because of its location! The city sits in a low area just before the Tennessee River passes through the Cumberland Mountains.
Before TVA started its flood control operations, major storms in the eastern part of the Tennessee Valley could cause the Tennessee River to rise rapidly. When it reached Chattanooga, the swollen river would attempt to carry more flow through the narrow mountain passes below the city than the river channel would allow. The extra water that could not flow immediately through the mountains would naturally back up to the city—flooding it on the average of once a year!
One look at these photographs and you can tell just how vulnerable Chattanooga is to flooding. The one on the left was taken from Lookout Mountain in 1867. The one on the right—taken from about the same location today—shows the amount of development in the floodplain. A floodplains is the land bordering rivers and streams that is normally dry but are covered with water during floods.