Tennessee River

Basin Description

  • The Upper Tennessee River Basin encompasses about 21,390 square miles and includes parts of four states: Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. Three major physiographic provinces are represented in the basin: the Cumberland Plateau, Valley and Ridge, and Blue Ridge Provinces.

  • The river begins above Knoxville, TN and reaches throughout the entire Tennessee River Valley and includes Georgia’s Lookout Creek, Chickamauga Creek, Toccoa, Nottely-Hiawassee and Little Tennessee Rivers.

  • The Tennessee flows 652 miles, including stops at nine dams, through Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky and changes in elevation more than 500 feet.

Health of the River

  • In 2011, the Little Tenneessee Watershed Association (LTWA) published the second edition of its report, "The State of the Streams in the Upper Little Tennessee Watershed." Find the report and other LTWA data and assessments online in the Publications section of their website.

  • 52 miles of rivers and streams in the Tennessee River Basin are included in the list of rivers and streams not meeting their designated use of fishing (1996-1997).

  • The criterion listed most frequently in Water Quality in Georgia, 1996-1997 as a contributor to non-supporting or partially-supporting status was fecal coliform bacteria, which was present in 29 percent of the stream miles assessed within the basin followed.

  • Metals such as zinc, copper, and lead were present in 10 percent of assessed stream miles.

Endangered Species

  • The Upper Tennessee River Basin is noted nationally for its diversity of freshwater fishes and mussels, including 174 species of fish and 85 species of mussels

  • Twenty-five of these mussel species are no longer found in the basin, mostly because of habitat destruction associated with reservoir impoundment. Eleven such species are believed to now be extinct.

  • Overall species diversity is slowly declining due to releases and spills in many parts of the basin

Land Use

  • In the Upper Tennessee River Basin, forests cover more than 67 percent of the Study Unit, and five National Forests (Jefferson, Pisgah, Cherokee, Nantahala, and Chattahoochee National Forests) wholly or partially lie within the basin.

  • Agricultural land, predominantly pasture, is the second most common land use and accounts for more than 26 percent of the study area. Row crops account for only about 2.6 percent of the study area. Less than 4.5 percent of the basin is developed.

Ground Water Resources

Although groundwater use accounts for a little more than 3 percent of the total water use in the basin, over one-third of the population relies upon groundwater sources for drinking water.

Surface Water Resources

  • The Upper Tennessee River Basin is characterized by an abundance of surface water that usually meets existing guidelines for drinking-water supply, recreation and the protection of aquatic life. Bacteria levels, however, frequently exceed State standards for contact recreation both in agricultural and urban areas.

  • Some major influences on surface waters include runoff from agricultural and urban areas, effluent from wastewater-treatment facilities, persistent sediment contamination, episodic spills and toxic releases.

Tourist Sites / Significant Parks Pertaining to River

  • Black Rock Mountain State Park is the highest state park in Georgia, and it is located in Rabun, GA at an elevation of 3,540 feet. There are scenic overlooks, hiking trails, and many amazing natural sites to see.

  • Cloudland Canyon State Park is one of the most scenic parks in Georgia, at the western edge of Lookout Mountain in Trenton, GA. The park is located on either side of a large gorge and its elevation ranges from 800-1980 feet. Visitors can hike to the bottom of the gorge to see two waterfalls.

  • Vogel State Park is one of the oldest and most popular state parks in Georgia, located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Blairsville, GA.

Get Involved

Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition
87 Upper Peachtree Road
Murphy, NC 28906
Phone: 828-837-5414
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Little Tennessee Watershed Association
197 Thomas Heights Road
Franklin, NC 28734
Phone: 828-369-6402
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Toccoa River Alliance
PO Box 998
Morganton, GA 30560
Phone: 770-314-0398
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