Water Recreation

Water is a wondrous and critical natural resource.  Tennessee has bountiful lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams.  Playing in water seems to have universal appeal.  People enjoy water sports such as boating, hunting, fishing and swimming which provide opportunities for recreation and physical activity.  Waterfront cottages, lake cabins and marinas are popular places to live and visit.  Water recreation gives some communities their identity while supporting steady tourism.

photo of boat on Emory River

How can water recreation increase physical activity?

Generally, fishing, swimming, boating, jet-skiing, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, water skiing, white water rafting and other water-related activities get people outside, moving and increasing physical activity.  All these recreation activities can have a positive impact on a person’s physical and mental health.

Who is the TWRA?

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is made up of more than 600 people dedicated to the preservation, conservation and enhancement of Tennessee’s fish and wildlife for the enjoyment of all Tennesseans and visitors to the state.

With four regional offices strategically located to serve the western, middle, plateau and eastern portion of the state, the TWRA's responsibilities are many and varied.  Wildlife officers educate boaters and young hunters as well as enforce the hunting, fishing and boating laws.  TWRA biologists and foresters manage the state's rich diversity of woods and waters and our game and nongame wildlife.

Where are recreational lakes and rivers?

Recreational lakes and rivers can be found throughout Tennessee.   Information about recreational lakes and rivers can be found at the Tennessee Valley Authority website, the Tennessee vacations websiteTWRA, and various city or county websites. 

What are some safe swimming tips?

The American Red Cross has a number of recommendations for safe swimming.  These important safety tips can be found on their safe swimming webpage and beach safety webpage.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s healthy swimming page has more safety tips like knowing how to swim, avoiding physical hazards in the water, don’t dive head first, wear life jackets while boating, never swim alone and be watchful of the weather, among others.

Recreational users of water may be at risk of waterborne disease.  People should be aware of any health risks whether with filtered water such as swimming pools or natural water such as lakes and rivers.  Water is generally clean enough for recreational use.  If human, animal or industrial wastes enter recreational water, the water quality can quickly degrade.  Pathogens like E. coli, Giardia or Cryptosporidium often increase in water when fecal matter is present.  If accidently ingested from recreational water, these pathogens may cause upset stomach and diarrhea or even more severe illness requiring medical treatment.

Where are advisories and closures posted?

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation posts advisories and closures for bacteriological and fish tissue contamination for Tennessee rivers and streams.

What are harmful algal blooms?

Cyanobacteria occur naturally in many bodies of water in Tennessee. In small numbers, these algae are not a problem. But when cyanobacteria multiply these microorganisms can form potentially toxic harmful algal blooms. Algal blooms can harm the health of people, pets, livestock and the environment. EPA's Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN) mobile app is a tool that uses satellite data to alert users that toxic, harmful algal blooms. Learn more about harmful algal blooms using EPA's CyAN app.

How does water recreation benefit the economy?

Water recreation can have a positive economic impact for the surrounding communities of a watershed and the entire region.  Water recreation benefits include increased tourism, entertainment opportunities for residents and visitors, and sales at local businesses and restaurants.

Spending on water recreation includes gear, vehicles, travel, excursions, rentals and tips.  Gear purchases include outdoor apparel and footwear, fishing waders, canoes, kayaks, paddle boards or backpacks. Vehicle purchases include boats, RVs and jet-skis.  The water recreation economy grows when consumers spend on travel-related expenses such as airfares, rental cars, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, gasoline and souvenirs.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the Outdoor Recreation Economy generates $80 billion in national, state and local tax revenues each year.  Cities and towns across the country have tapped into the business of outdoor recreation, with good reason.  They recognize that outdoor recreation and open spaces are key ingredients to healthy communities, contribute to a high quality of life, and most importantly, attract and sustain businesses and families.

It is well documented that waterfront development typically has higher property values.  Whether the property is located on an ocean, lake or river, people pay more for waterfront property.  People will pay more for views of a serene lake or rushing rapids instead of the exact same home with views of other houses and the street.  Waterfront property is in limited supply and people pay more for any desirable item that is limited in supply.

What can my community do to protect our recreational waters?

Like greenways that allow hiking, walking, running and other land-based recreation opportunities, recreational water trails or blueways, can help conserve and protect recreational waters.  Tennessee’s landmark State Scenic Rivers program in effect created the nation’s first system of blueways in 1968.  TVA has also been a leader in blueway development, having designated three streams in the state.  Chattanooga, recognized as a national model for natural infrastructure development, has a very popular blueway on the Tennessee River.  EPA’s Water Resources webpage has more ideas about protecting water in your community.  The Clean Water Action’s website also has a list of things you can begin today to help protect your water.

Government partners

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) 

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)
State Parks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 
Healthy Swimming / Recreational Water

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Water Resources

Additional resources

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) 
Environment – Recreation

Clean Water Action 
Clean water advocacy