TCWN Litigation

Water quality is important to families who recreate on streams and individuals who depend on it for livelihood. TCWN uses administrative forums and courts to protect water quality. 

TCWN litigation protects endangered species, wetlands, and water quality. 

Our litigation enforces existing permit terms for wetlands or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. 


Columbia Sewage Treatment Plant Permit Appeal

October 10, 2017

TCWN v. Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation


TCWN appealed the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for the City of Columbia's Sewage Treatment Plant. TCWN alleges that TDEC failed to conduct a reasonable potential analysis and failed to include numeric limits for phosphorus. 

Phosphorus pollution causes many problems for Tennessee waterbodies. Specifically, the Duck River suffers from low dissolved oxygen and elevated levels of phosphorus. Ensuring proper permit conditions of the Columbia Sewage Treatment Plant is key, because the facility discharges effluent into the Duck River. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if a technology-based limit does not protect water quality enough, a permit must contain a Water Quality-Based Effluent Limitation (WQBEL). WQBELs are numeric limits and their determination takes into consideration the amount of a specific pollutant that may be discharged to a water body while still maintaining water quality standards.


Litigation is ongoing for the Columbia Sewage Treatment Plant Permit appeal. 

Gallatin Coal Ash Appellate Case

October 04, 2017

TCWN et al. v. TVA


TCWN and the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association sued the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for alleged Clean Water Act violations and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination (NPDES) Permit Violations at its Gallatin Fossil Plant in Gallatin, Tennessee. 

Coal ash ponds at the Gallatin Fossil Plant have been leaking harmful pollutants into the Cumberland River and surrounding groundwater for decades in violation of the Clean Water Act. Coal ash waste is widely known to contain harmful pollutants, including heavy metals, which can cause harm to human health and the environment. Known pollutants exceeding federal safety levels at the Gallatin site include arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, and vanadium.


The U.S. Federal District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruled in TCWN and TSRA’s favor on August 4, 2017. The decision ordered TVA to excavate the coal ash. On October 2, 2017, TVA appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Litigation is ongoing. 

MS4 Phase II Permit Appeal

October 28, 2016

TCWN et al. v. Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation


States manage stormwater runoff in cities and towns through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program. In Tennessee, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) released a new MS4 permit for smaller cities on September 30, 2016. TCWN appealed the permit on October 28, 2016, because TCWN alleges that the permit is not strong enough to protect water quality and lacks some provisions that allow the public to participate in the storm water management process.  

Stormwater runoff is a national concern streams and rivers. Runoff of stormwater from human-modified landscapes can change natural hydrologic patterns and elevate pollutant concentrations. Runoff may contain (or mobilize) contaminants including sediment, suspended solids, nutrients, heavy metals, pathogens, and oxygen-demanding substances.


Tennessee streams and rivers face impairment due to stormwater runoff. According to the 2014 TDEC 305(b) report, approximately half of assessed Tennessee streams are impaired. Of those, stormwater runoff causes over 2,400 miles of streams to not meet their designated uses. 



Litigation is ongoing for the MS4 Phase II Permit appeal. A hearing is scheduled for January 16, 2018. 

Grainger Wetland Federal Case

December 18, 2014

TCWN et al. v. Tennessee Department of Transportation


TCWN and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sues the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for Clean Water Act violations resulting from its failure to mitigate wetlands destroyed as part of widening Highways 1 and 32 in Grainger County, Tennessee. Under permit, TDOT was required to recreate 3.26 acres of wetland, comply with water quality criteria, and record deed restrictions to protect the new wetlands. Instead, TDOT developed only about 1.01 acres of wetland in an area with pyritic soils, which appears to have resulted in water quality violations. It never completed the other 2.25 acres, and only filed a deed restriction after TCWN complained to TDEC. 

Blackside Dace II Federal Case

May 05, 2015

Defenders of Wildlife et. al. v. Jewell


TCWN, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment  (SOCM) filed suit against OSM and FWS for failure to adequately protect the federally-threatened blackside dace from the impact of high-conductivity discharges from the Sterling & Strays Surface Mine 1. The 1,090 acre mine in Claiborne County will discharge to Valley Creek, Tackett Creek, Spruce Lick Branch, Burrell Creek/Bennett Fork, and other streams via 36 outfalls.  All of the streams drain to the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River, which is an important migration corridor for the federally threatened blackside dace.  Tackett Creek & Bennett Fork are designated protection zones for the small fish species, which was also found in Spruce Lick Branch in March 2013. 


On January 19, 2016, a federal judge approved a settlement that will commit the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to comply with the Endangered Species Act at three Tennessee coal strip mines. The agreement will require OSM and the Service to fully consider the effects of pollution from mining operations on the endangered Cumberland darter and the threatened blackside dace. Those two freshwater fish species are found in the areas threatened by mining waste pollution from National Coal’s Zeb Mountain Mine, Davis Creek Energy’s Mine Area 5, and Middlesboro Mining’s Sterling & Strays mine.

Holston Army Ammunitions Federal Case

November 17, 2014

TCWN v. U.S. Department of Defense et al.


TCWN filed a citizen suit against the U.S. Department of Defense and operator BAE Systems Ordnance Systems concerning RDX. RDX is a compound used to create explosive materials. 

The Army’s Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HSAAP) discharged RDX in amounts exceeding its permit limit. HSAAP is located in Kingsport  on the banks of the Holston River.

TCWN alleged that Defendants discharged RDX in excess of the 12.2 pounds per day average limit each month from May 2012 through July 2014, in violation of NPDESPermit No. TN0003671.​ The United States Environmental Protection Agency has established a health advisory limit for RDX in drinking water of 2 parts per billion (ppb) which is the equivalent of 1.669081e-8 pounds/gallon.


On Sept. 29, 2015,  we reached a settlement agreement that will greatly reduce the level of RDX pollution in the Holston River by 2020. 

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PO Box 1521, Knoxville TN 37901

Tel: 865-522-7007 ext 101

Tennessee Clean Water Network © 2019

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