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Tennessee Clean
Water Network

123A S. Gay St.
Knoxville, TN 37902

Office: 865-522-7007
Fax: 865-329-2422

Our Programs

The Clean Water Policy Program

TCWN’s Policy Program seeks to address issues related to the implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act at all levels of government – federal, state, and local. TCWN is utilizing a variety of strategies to educate the public and decision-makers about threats to clean water protections and to advance strategies which will further the Clean Water Act’s goal of protecting and restoring the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our state’s waters.

The following policy areas have been identified as priorities for our efforts. In order of priority, they are…


TCWN tracks legislation that will affect water quality in Tennessee and drafts and promotes legislation when necessary. Often, legislators do not have any personal knowledge of water quality issues, and are often open to education on the subject. TCWN educates state and federal representatives and senators on bills related to water quality and is available to present information to committees or individuals. Click on the following links for more information on what we do and how you can be involved.


Permit Appeals
Tennessee Clean Water Act of 2007
Bills of Interest in the 2007-2008 Tennessee General Assembly Session


Clean Water Authority Restoration Act
Agricultural Protection and Prosperity Act of 2007



Permit Appeals: In 2005, TCWN and the Tennessee Conservation Voters worked together with legislators to give citizens the right to appeal permits that do not protect water quality and habitat or meet federal and state requirements. . Learn more…

Tennessee Clean Water Act of 2007: In 2007, TCWN launched a campaign to pass the Tennessee Clean Water Act of 2007 (SB633/HB1803). After researching enforcement activities through interviews and documents from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and concerned groups and individuals, we developed a bill that improves permitting and enforcement without overburdening the taxpayer. The current system allows pollution to go on to longs and gives those who break water quality laws the impression that no harm is done, and ignoring the law is a good way to save money. This bill has the potential to require better compliance, earlier, and consistently across the state.

The laws of the state, in general, are sufficient to protect the waters of the state. However, without proper permitting, monitoring and enforcement of the laws, we will not protect or improve our public resources as required by state and federal law.

The State of Tennessee is consistently deficient in its attempts to notify the public of important permitting and enforcement actions. Methods used to notify the public are not consistent with guidelines set forth in state and federal laws and regulations. TCWN seeks to reform the State’s process for public notification and ensure that these requirements are fully met.

Point source dischargers continue to cause significant degradation to Tennessee’s waters, chronically and often egregiously violating their water pollution permits. In many cases, enforcement actions by the state are either very weak or nonexistent. Opportunities for citizen enforcement actions are often limited by state agencies, with affected citizens being denied access to the courts and meaningful opportunity to participate at significant stages of the administrative decision-making process. TCWN seeks to remove these hurdles to public involvement and ensure that the State adheres to the provisions set forth in federal laws and regulations. Learn more…

In order to repair these and other deficiencies in our state law, SB633/HB1803 includes:

  • Priority Permitting for Good Contractors, probation for repeat offenders (education and added monitoring), and no permits for the worst offenders.
  • Public Access to Information
  • Swifter, Consistent and Mandatory Enforcement
  • Stop Work Orders - Stopping unpermitted activity and pollution events
  • Mandatory Fines - Polluter Pays Principle

Click here for more information on the bill and links to the text.

Bills of Interest in the 2007-2008 Tennessee General Assembly Session

Limited Resource Waters Bill (HB4185/SB4119) BAD BILL
This bill strips protections from 30,000 miles of streams in Tennessee. Click here to read the press release.

Stop Work Orders Bill (HB3521/SB3651)
Ensures the protection of Tennessee’s streams from the state’s #1 source of water pollution, mud, and destruction from water quality pollution.

Green Design Incentives Bill (HB3965/SB3956)
Provides incentives for developers to protect Tennessee’s streams and wetlands through efficient and environmentally protective building practices.

Mountaintop Removal Ban (HB3348/SB3822)
Protects thousand of acres of land across the state, ensure the scenic mountain beauty will remain, and protects the environmental quality of our streams.

Anonymous Tip Denial Bill (HB2511/SB3966) BAD BILL
Discourages citizens from notifying the state about environmental quality violations as well as reduce TDEC’s ability to enforce environmental protection laws. It prohibits the investigation or enforcement action of violations of environmental laws based solely on information submitted by an anonymous source.

Exemption Bill (HB3660/SB3438) BAD BILL
Lifts protection from hundreds of miles of streams and significantly inhibits federal funding for agriculture programs.

Click here to go to the TN General Assembly Web Page. From there you can email or call your representatives or look up the text of the bill.



Clean Water Authority Restoration Act:

In the past few years, the federal and supreme courts have been hearing cases on filling of wetlands, and the extent of Army Corps of Engineer's authority to protect wetlands that are not intrastate or directly connected to a stream. The Supreme Court made a ruling last year that still requires interpretation and protection of waters of the United States on a case by case basis. Much of the disagreement has to do with the fact that the word navigable appears in one place in the Clean Water Act. Many see wetlands as non-navigable and do not respect the influence that they may have on streams and underground springs. Though navigable waters is defined later in the text as being all waters of the United States, some argue that many streams and wetlands are not protected.

Current science has proven that wetlands and streams may be integrally connected to groundwater and springs that could feed into rivers some distance from the visible surface waters. The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act removes the ambiguity from the law and allows scientists to determine what is a wetland or stream or not based on hydrology and other characteristics of the waterbody. Opponents suggest such inane scenarios as mud puddles being covered. The Supreme Court Justice Scalia went to the dictionary to define what a stream is rather than defer to the agency tasked with protecting our water resources and navigation system. Write to your congressmen and let them know that you expect their support to continue to protect our hydrologic cycle and water resources. Many in the Tennessee legislature are waiting for the federal government to limit their authority so that the states can also abandon our resources. It is very important that the science win over the politics. We can still have good, profitable development without losing the protection of our resources.

Click here to find and contact your United States Congressional Delegation or here for a phone directory.

Agricultural Protection and Prosperity Act of 2007 - HB1398/SB807

This bill would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 to provide that manure shall not be considered to be a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. While we agree that stepping in manure may be unsightly and smelly, it is not nuclear waste. However, when tons of manure slurry flush into a stream, both people and fish have died from natural processes related to those releases. Therefore, it is not overprotective to require that such releases be reported and cleaned up if possible.

The current reporting requirements for CERCLA:

ìHazardous Substance Release Reporting Regulations ( 40 CFR Part 302 ) direct the person in charge of a facility to report to the National Response Center (NRC) any environmental release of a hazardous substance which exceeds a reportable quantity. Reportable quantities are defined and listed in 40 CFR Section 302.4. A release report may trigger a response by EPA, or by one or more federal or state emergency response authorities.î Manure itself is not listed as a hazardous substance, but the constituents of it are. Reportable quantities of substances can be 100 pounds or more.

Click here for an assessment of the myths and realities of the CERCLA designation.

Administrative Rules:


Every three years the State of Tennessee revisits its Water Quality Standards (Triennial Review). This review provides an opportunity to influence the decisions made on water quality standards for the next three years. TCWN plays a leadership role in the review and monitoring the State’s new procedures and rules and encourages citizen involvement in the public process.


  • track implementation of the State’s new antidegradation procedures
  • clarify how the State defines Tier II waters in Tennessee
  • institute a parameter-by-parameter approach for implementation of antidegradation rules, rather than a waterbody approach
  • subject permit renewal to the full antidegradation process (no grandfathering of existing discharges)
  • designate additional Tier III waters
  • ensure proper management of Tier III waters no degradation
  • obtain a favorable definition of degradation

Water Quality Criteria:

  • Dissolved oxygen – prevent a proposed lowering of the standard in select ecoregions
  • Nutrients – establish numeric criteria for streams and reservoirs/lakes
  • Sediment – establish numeric criteria to address the most significant source of pollution in Tennessee’s waters

303d List:

The State of Tennessee is required to put all waterbodies that do not meet water quality standards on a list of ‘Impaired Waterbodies’ also known as the 303(d) list every two years.

  • Encourage the use of data from other agencies, universities, and citizen groups in the decision-making process
  • Create a priority ranking for TMDL development
  • Include “threatened” waterbodies; and create required criteria for de-listing.

Click here for TCWN's analysis of the 303(d) list in your county.



TMDLs: TMDLs are required by the Clean Water Act to be developed by each state for each waterbody that appears on the State’s 303(d) list. Many inadequacies exist in the development of these plans, particularly with respect to on-the-ground implementation.

  • Review and comment on those TMDLs with major policy implications
  • Support on-the-ground implementation of TMDLs
  • Highlight overall program problems
  • Track proposed changes to TMDL regulations at the national level.


Farm Programs:

Though construction contributes 48% of the sediment in streams according to TDEC, agricultural practices also contribute to destabilization of streambanks and muddy riverbottoms. The federal government used to encourage the alteration of streams and fill of wetlands before they fully understood their value. Crops and pastureland cover approximately seven million acres of Tennessee. In the past, federal funds and programs aimed at draining wetlands, straightening streams, and moving water off of property rather than storing it in the soil and protecting floodplains. Now, tens of millions of public dollars are invested to reverse the loss of our resources. Particularly when drought and flood conditions are increasingly volatile, natural water storage and flood plain buffering for property protection are critical. Click here for a summary of erosion in Tennessee.

TCWN is therefore developing a farm program to help farmers to access technical information and funding for remediation or conservation projects. We already support farmers trying to monitor development around their property that threatens crops and livestock water supplies. In addition, we are launching the following programs to support the farming community in Tennessee.


2007 Farm Bill: The Farm Bill is a new area for TCWN. The Farm Bill provides money under several different programs to encourage soil and water conservation and increase farm productivity and profitability. TCWN is a member of the State Technical Committee and in that role has supported policies that prioritize funding to projects that improve water quality. Good stewards of the land should be at the head of the line.

As a member of the Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Collaborative, we have also studied the Farm Bill policies at the federal level, and are supporting better compliance review, continued support of programs funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and increased access for small farmers and those who grow specialty crops. Traditionally, only a handful of grain and soybean varieties received the majority of funding from the Farm Bill. While TCWN support cellulose-based fuel sources, the market is setting a profitable price for those crops, and we are researching what non-traditionally funded specialty crops also benefit the land and water resources. Click here for the NRCS web site for more information. Click here to find the NRCS agent in your area.

Funding for Erosion Control: This program will encourage landowners in west Tennessee to take advantage of government cost-share funding to improve their property and water quality. Historically channelized streams can be modified through grade control structures, remeanders for channels, reestablished floodplains, and other best management practices. The North Fork Forked Deer Watershed will be the first target for the program. The watersheds in the northwest of the state transport significant sediment loads to Tennessee's rivers and are the leading Tennessee contributors of sediment and associated nutrients to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Grade structures and other BMPs that retain soil at the source will improve downstream conditions and help meet Tennessee's obligation to improve the hypoxic conditions in the Gulf. This new program is dependent on volunteer landowners and funding.

Farmers' Rights and Responsibilities: Increasingly, development pressures are encouraging many farmers to sell their land for residential or commercial building. For those who remain to work the land, new obstacles are emerging including changes to historical flow patterns, changes in well water access, and lower water quality for surface waters often relied on for livestock. Our members have documented floods of clay-laden mud flowing over their crops or cutting away the topsoil and creating channels through formerly productive acreage. Over the next year, TCWN will be providing information to the farm community about their rights and responsibilities under the water quality laws of the state. Farmers, like all other citizens, can protect their property through commenting on proposed permits, cooperating with state agencies to monitor harmful changes to water quality, or legal action against those who pollute their property and water sources. As well, TCWN will provide information about when landowners need to get permits themselves to avoid penalties from the agencies.

Mississippi River Program:

Water that runs in the Tennessee River and its tributaries travels through hundreds of communities before it reaches Tennessee and hundreds more after it flows out. The Tennessee River flows into the Kentucky and Illinois before it reaches the Mississippi River and tributaries from middle and west Tennessee eventually flow in to the Mississippi as well. In an effort to do our part in restoring the water quality of the river and the Gulf of Mexico, the Tennessee Clean Water Network is joining groups from nine other states as a member of the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative. We will work cooperatively with these groups to establish programs in each state that reduce or eliminate sedimentation, pollution and destruction of our rivers and streams.

More than 50 cities and 18 million people rely on drinking water from the Mississippi River and its tributaries. As an ecosystem, a transportation corridor, and a revitalizing community amenity, the Mississippi provides fish and wildlife, economic development, and recreational opportunities.

Each summer, however, a ìDead Zoneî roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts forms in the Gulf of Mexico at the river's south end. The zone is caused by fertilizers and chemicals flowing downstream from farm crops predominantly in the Upper Midwest. Accumulating all along the journey south, the chemicals starve the Gulf's waters of oxygen and kill fish, shrimp, and other sea life.

Government laws are major factors in most efforts to reduce pollution. State agencies carry out much of the work through the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA is overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and is the primary federal law governing water pollution. The Mississippi flows through a 10-state corridor and drains portions of 31 states. Unlike any other river in the nation, most of the Mississippi's 2,300-plus miles lie between state boundaries, posing unique challenges for implementation of the CWA.

Tennessee is fortunate that the legislature has created laws to protect our waterways. Many farmers have adopted best management practices for soil retention and pollution control funded with state and federal money. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has the tools to require construction and mining efforts to conform to permit restrictions that would alleviate much of the storm runoff that clogs our streams. TCWN will monitor the current and proposed regulations regarding Tennessee's implementation of the Clean Water Act, and propose new or revised legislation if we identify gaps or inaccuracies.

In 2004, Headwaters Group Philanthropic Services, LLC, assessed a range of water quality issues along the Mississippi. After two years of research and interviewing state and federal agencies and nonprofits, Headwaters reported that the regulatory system and the government's current tracking data and oversight is inadequate to measure existing conditions and progress in restoring water quality.

Our preliminary research suggests that the laws are on the books or in development in Tennessee, but enforcement and monitoring are lacking. TCWN will partner with other non-profits and the public to support government efforts to enforce our laws and protect our quality of life.

However, legislation is not the end of the process, it is the beginning. TCWN is dedicated to work within this Collaborative to oversee the implementation of:

•  water quality laws to keep pollution out of our water; and
•  antidegredation laws that protect our water resources to maintain a high quality;
•  effective enforcement procedures for permit violations to avoid sediment damage to streams
•  sewage treatment permit compliance and best management practices to eliminate overflows into streets, yards and waterways

We will also support farmers and landowners to address agricultural and pesticide runoff through voluntary pollution reduction incentives.

Getting started

Throughout 2006, the Collaborative and TCWN are solidifying initial goals, work plans and operational guidelines. Projects may include the establishing permit watchdog groups, training non-profit service providers, creating public education programs, and developing a Farm Bill policy at the federal and state levels that encourage conservation and best management practices. Wherever possible, we will use templates that have worked for our partner states, and will share positive results with the Collaborative and other partners.

Updates for Early 2007

The Collaborative provides funding and technical support to expand our programs in several areas. The following summaries are a sample of the work that has been advanced through this group.

•  TN has taken advantage of the Nutrient Working Group emphasis and commissioned a study of the translator standards that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation developed several years ago. Tennessee has drafted these numeric limits for watersheds and sub-basins, and is ahead of many other states. These limits and the methods used to derive them may be transferred to other states. Therefore, TCWN is working to ensure that the best science and practical implementation are included.

•  TCWN has been active in the water quality standards debate, but is working with the other states toward a uniform standard that protects water quality. The group has commissioned a study to compare the states to the EPA minimum standards including the implementation, temporal scale, and chronic and acute toxicity rates to the current scientific evidence. Each group will use the report to lobby for consistency in their state.

•  Antidegradation laws are being drafted in each state with various challenges. Tennessee has laws on the books that are being interpreted to allow degradation without public review or a showing of important social and economic benefit to the public. TCWN is working with the other groups in Region 4 to encourage state attorneys general and EPA officials that the interpretation does not meet the Clean Water Act requirements.

•  The Farm Bill is a new area for TCWN. The collaborative is focused on increasing compliance and prioritization of projects that improve impaired waters. TCWN is also applying for funding to become a service provider to the farm and landowner community. We hope to launch a conservation program in 2007, and offer technical services by the end of 2008. The federal and state resources continue to be cut, and applicants for nutrient management programs and other best management practices implementation money have to wait for available staff. We hope to recruit and fund technical assistance and assist farmers and landowners in protecting their property and water resources.

Related links

Clean Water ActThe primary federal law that was designed in the 1970s to control water pollution in the nation's waters. Most of its provisions are administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Traveling Upstream: Improving Water Quality on the Mississippi River
Funded by The McKnight Foundation, this study by Headwaters Group Philanthropic Services, LLC was conducted in 2004-2005.

National Academies of ScienceA two-year study is underway to address implementation of the Clean Water Act in the 10-state Mississippi River corridor.


Our Programs