Muddy and Risky Waters:
Tennessee Rivers Sing the Blues

While Progress Is Made Toward Cleaner Waters,
Hundreds of Rivers, Streams, and Lakes Still Polluted

A report issued by the state indicates that while some communities in Tennessee are enjoying cleaner waters, other waterways remain polluted, posing health risks, eliminating recreational opportunities such as angling and swimming, and hampering environmental protection.

According to the report, sediment from land development, road construction, and agricultural activities poses the biggest threat to the state's waters.

The report, issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Water Pollution Control, provides a full assessment of water quality issues throughout the state. This report, known as the 305(b) report, is how states report their compliance and progress under the Clean Water Act.

Tennessee Clean Water Network, a statewide river group, agrees with the state on progress made but says there are still hundreds of miles of impaired waters still left to clean up. According to the report, the state has determined that over 6,500 miles of surveyed rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards. In addition, 118,000 acres of surveyed lakes do not fully meet water quality standards.

According to the report, only 40 percent of the state's waters are assessed; alternatively, almost 36,000 out of the 60,000 total river and stream miles in the state have not been recently assessed. "The state may have determined that only 10 percent of our waters do not meet water quality standards, but the more important detail is that the state does not have enough information on 60 percent of the waters," said Danielle Droitsch, executive director of TCWN. "This leaves a big question mark. The fact is, we simply don't know the overall health of our state's waters."

For example, in the Hiwassee River watershed, a popular source of recreation for boating, hunting, and fishing, 292 miles do not fully meet water quality standards. Forty-five percent of watershed, however, has not been recently assessed.

Biggest Source of the Problem: Dirt

According to the state report, "Dirt is the largest single pollutant in Tennessee. Some erosion is natural, however, the vast amount of acreage in Tennessee undergoing disturbance at any given time is staggering." Dirt, or siltation, restricts or prevents light penetration, alters temperature, decreases pool or lake depth, changes flow patterns and generally alters the chemical and biological properties of waters. Sediment is the largest single source of lake pollution.

Land disturbance from a number of human uses dumps hundreds of tons of sediment into our rivers every year. In the Harpeth River watershed in the Nashville metropolitan area, xx river miles are officially listed as polluted due to highway and road construction and land development.

"Until we reduce pollution from land use, roadway construction, agriculture, still unregulated, we are losing the fight in certain watersheds," Droitsch said. According to the report, the major sources of pollution are unregulated runoff from construction sites, road construction, habitat alteration (again from land development activities).

According to the report, untreated sewage being dumped into rivers remains a problem. Consider, for instance, that:

  

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