Man has utilized the power of water for years. Much of the growth of early colonial American industry can be attributed to hydropower. Because fuel such as coal and wood were not readily available to inland cities, American settlers were forced to turn to other alternatives. Falling water was ideal for powering sawmills and grist mills.
As coal became a better-developed source of fuel, however, the importance of hydropower decreased. When canals began to be built off of the Mississippi River, inland cities became linked to mainstream commerce. This opened the flow of coal to most areas of America, dealing the final blow to hydropower in early America.
Water power really didn't stage a major comeback until the 20th century. The development of an electric generator helped increase hydropower's importance. In the mid-20th century, as Americans began to move out of the cities and into "suburbia," the demand for electricity increased, as did the role of hydroelectricity. Hydroelectric power plants were built near large cities to supplement power production.
Hydropower had some help from the federal government in being established in America. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was implemented during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The program was designed to correct several problems in the Tennessee River Basin. These problems included frequent floods, erosion, and deforestation. The TVA provided for the building of several hydroelectric dams. Not only were the dams successful in controlling the flooding, they also provide electricity to the region. The TVA is an example of successful implementation of hydroelectric power.
An overhead view of the Noxon Rapids Hydroelectric Power Project on the Clark Fork River. Noxon, Montana, USA
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