The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Biodiversity in crosshairs as burgeoning Middle Tennessee fears water shortage

Written by

Duck RiverMarshall CoThis biologically rich stretch of the Duck River could soon be the site of a large municipal water intake facility.

Duck River targeted by thirsty, growing municipalities in Nashville area

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout

Marshall County, located outside what was once considered the boundary edge of growing suburbs circling Nashville, has seen explosive growth of its own in recent years — call it the Williamson County overflow effect, says County Mayor Mike Keny.

Drawn by more affordable housing, jobs and the rural character of the county — about an hour from Nashville in the “heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor” (as local economic development officials call it) — the influx of residents, and some relocating business and industry, has brought new urgency to a long-standing reality.

The county doesn’t have its own water supply. For decades, it has had to pay wholesale for drinking water from the cities of Murfreesboro and Lewisburg. That supply is no longer adequate.

A new proposal by county officials calls for building a water treatment facility along the banks of the Duck River in northern Marshall County capable of siphoning up to 6 million gallons of water per day; establish a reliable local water supply for decades to come.

The need for Marshall County,  to have its own water supply, which it has never had, is becoming more urgent with an influx of new residents. But environmental activists say the nearby Duck River, which is biologically diverse, may not be the best option.  

The plan has drawn opposition from environmental groups and the concern of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency over its impact on one of the most biologically diverse sections of the river, a critical habitat for endangered species. Part of what makes the Duck River such a healthy water supply — more than 100,000 people in communities along the nearly 300-mile river depend on it for drinking water — is because it is the most biologically diverse river in the United States, home to 50 different species of mussels and more than a hundred varieties of fish.

At special risk, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has stressed, are the Pale Liliput and Rabbitsfoot mussels. The mussels often lie near low and flat sand bars that are especially susceptible to shifts in water flow that are downstream from the proposed water extraction point, a letter from the agency to environmental regulators said. Mussels serve as a kind of “water purifier” through their digestive process.

“The particular segment of the Duck River where the new withdrawal is proposed is absolutely critical to the long-term survival of several endangered fish and freshwater mussel species, a fact which requires additional care and transparency in the decision-making process,” a letter to state environmental regulators from Sally Palmer, director of science & policy for The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee said.

The letter notes the group is fully supportive of using the Duck River as a healthy water supply — it currently serves as one for more than 100,000 people at other points in the river — but urges the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, to work with local officials and environmental groups on alternatives.

TDEC has already made the initial determination that the proposal’s impact will result in no significant degradation of the water extraction point. The “de minimus” finding, under state permitting rules, means the agency does not have to go through a more public process of discussing alternatives or undergoing social and economic impact analyses, a process Palmer urged state officials to undertake at an informational meeting last week to hear feedback on the county’s petition for a permit.

“We encourage TDEC to hold a formal public hearing to allow other people who may not have previously been aware about this permit a chance to provide their comments for the record,” Palmer said in a statement last week.  “We also hope that TDEC will help Marshall County and neighbor water utilities with the resources they may need to look at different alternatives to addressing their water supply issues than a new water withdrawal at this ecologically sensitive place in the Duck River.”

County officials say they have already weighed other alternatives that were more expensive and ran into logistical hurdles. An expansion of water capacity at the Lewisburg treatment facility, also located along the Duck River, wasn’t feasible. They looked at purchasing water from Columbia, Tennessee treatment center, but those contract conversations weren’t successful. Water conservation and recycling wouldn’t get the county the water it needs, although officials pledged it would be part of any water plan going forward.

“This is a huge issue for us,” said Keny, elected mayor of Marshall County in 2018. “From the first time I took office, water has been the constant. We’re considered a rural county, no doubt, but as time progresses we get a little less rural. We see more development coming in — we call it our ‘Williamson County overflow’ — but now we’re seeing people coming from all over the country.”

Rate this item
(0 votes)
Published in Water

Related items

  • Every TVA coal-fired plant in Tennessee is leaking dangerous contaminants at unsafe levels, report concludes
    in News

    TVA‘s Cumberland power plantThe Tennessee Valley Authority’s Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, Tennessee is leaking boron at 22 times safe levels, as well as unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt, lithium and molybdenum, according to a recent report prepared by environmental groups using TVA’s own data. Tennessee Valley Authority

    Report: TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis ranks No. 10 in most contaminated U.S. sites

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

    The Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash dumps in Memphis rank among the worst in the nation for contamination of groundwater with cancer-causing toxins, according to a new report that relied on the power provider’s own records.

    TVA’s coal ash dumps at the now-defunct Allen Fossil Plant rank as the 10th worst contaminated sites in the country in a report released earlier this month that examined groundwater monitoring data from coal-fired plant operators, including TVA.

    TVA’s own monitoring data shows its Memphis dumps are leaking arsenic at levels nearly 300 times safe drinking water limits. Unsafe levels of boron, lead and molybdenum are also being recorded there.

    The report, prepared and published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice, shows that coal ash dumps at every TVA coal-fired facility across Tennessee are leaking dangerous contaminants at unsafe levels, including arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybedenum, boron, lead and sulfate, into groundwater.

  • Still no reckoning for coal-ash polluters
    in News

    1024px Kingston plant spill swanpond tn2A TVA ash pond at Watts Bar ruptured with disastrous consequences in December 2008.  Wikipedia 

    Report contends coal plant operators are shirking responsibilities on ash cleanup

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout

    NASHVILLE — In the wake of major coal ash spills from power plant containment ponds in Tennessee and into the Dan River along the North Carolina and Virginia border, the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 laid out the first federal rules for managing the ash, one of the nation’s largest waste streams, and the toxins it contains.  

    But more than seven years later, few utilities and other owners responsible for the often unlined pits where billions of tons of ash leach heavy metals and other toxins into groundwater are planning comprehensive cleanups, per a report released this month by a pair of environmental groups. 

  • 5 big threats to the world’s rivers
    in News

    fresh water Conservation FisheriesA biologist with Conservation Fisheries surveys a stretch of Little River near Walland, Tennessee to determine fish viability and identify rare species for transplantation. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

    Human activities have imperiled our waterways — along with a third of freshwater fish and other aquatic species

    This story was originally published by The Revelator.

    If we needed more motivation to save our ailing rivers, it could come with the findings of a recent study that determined the biodiversity crisis is most acute in freshwater ecosystems, which thread the Southern landscape like crucial veins and arteries.

    Rivers, lakes and inland wetlands cover 1 percent of the Earth but provide homes for 10 percent of all its species, including one-third of all vertebrates. And many of those species are imperiled — some 27 percent of the nearly 30,000 freshwater species so far assessed by the IUCN Red List. This includes nearly one-third of all freshwater fish.

    How did things get so bad? For some species it’s a single action — like building a dam. But for most, it’s a confluence of factors — an accumulation of harm — that builds for years or decades.

  • Citizen scientists are taking stock in Smokies, and the inventory keeps increasing
    in News

    1 smokies most wanted infographic credit Emma Oxford GSMA

    This story was provided by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

    Next demonstration on Thursday, Oct. 20

    GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating the success of a community science project led by nonprofit partner Discover Life in America (DLiA) called Smokies Most Wanted. The initiative encourages visitors to record life they find in the park through the iNaturalist nature app. DLiA and the park use these data points to map species range, track exotic species, and even discover new kinds of life in the park. 

    “iNaturalist usage in the Smokies has skyrocketed from just four users in 2011, to 3,800 in 2020, to now more than 7,100 users,” said Will Kuhn, DLIA’s director of science and research. 

    In August, the project reached a milestone, surpassing 100,000 records of insects, plants, fungi, and other Smokies life submitted through the app. Among them are 92 new species not previously seen in the park.

  • Public comment: Environmental group leaders say TVA makes input difficult
    in News

    Handout from TVA Listening Session Aug. 30 2022Scott Banbury with the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club said a handout provided at TVA’s Aug. 30 listening session stated recordings of the meeting were not allowed; a TVA spokesperson said recordings are, in fact, allowed. Flyer provided by Scott Banbury

    Is TVA trying to gag its critics?

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

    KNOXVILLE — While the Tennessee Valley Authority, a utility company that provides power to millions in Tennessee and other states, allows for public input into decisions, the process isn’t simple or transparent, say some regular attendees.

    Take, for instance, a recent public listening session: representatives of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club say they were told they could not record the session despite a spokesman for TVA saying the opposite.

    According to TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks, attendees are always allowed to record public meetings, provided they don’t cause a disturbance, but minutes before the session, members of the Tennessee chapter of the Sierra Club were prohibited from doing so.

  • There’s a whole world in the dirt beneath your feet
    in News
    Dust bowl soilThe Dust Bowl of the 1930s resulted in the displacement of tons of soil in the midst of a drought similar to the one that grips the Southwest today. Library of Congress
     

    Dirt is far from just dirt. It’s a foundation for life.

    This story was originally published by The Revelator.

    Look down. You may not see the soil beneath your feet as teeming with life, but it is.

    Better scientific tools are helping us understand that dirt isn’t just dirt. Life in the soil includes microbes like bacteria and fungi; invertebrates such as earthworms and nematodes; plant roots; and even mammals like gophers and badgers who spend part of their time below ground.

    It’s commonly said that a quarter of all the planet’s biodiversity lives in the soil, but that’s likely a vast understatement. Many species that reside there, particularly microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and protists, aren’t yet known to science.

  • Southeast Tennessee ridges and rivers will benefit from $10m infusion of federal natural resource funding
    in News
    Crimper on Sequatchie Valley FarmA crimper is attached to the back of a tractor on a farm in the Sequatchie River Valley. A relatively recent agricultural technique, crimping has been shown to reduce farmers’ input costs and improve soil quality. Recently, USDA approved funneling $10 million into a six-county region of Southeast Tennessee. This money will fuel conservation-minded improvements for landowners, including lowering the cost to rent equipment like crimpers and subsidize the planting of cover crops to improve soil health and reduce sedimentation in nearby streams.  Tennessee Aquarium
     

    Targeted collaborative conservation will help local agricultural operations improve soil and water quality and protect aquatic life

    CHATTANOOGA Tennessee is as much a patchwork quilt of farms as it is an intricately woven lacework of streams and rivers. Soon, farmers and the aquatic life living alongside them will reap the benefits of $10 million in federal funds to support water-friendly agricultural improvements in the rolling uplands of the state’s southeastern corner.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the allocation of more than $197 million to support Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP) throughout the nation. These initiatives promote coordination between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partnering organizations that are already engaged in conservation efforts.

  • Activists urge TVA to take advantage of historic US climate bill for energy-efficiency improvements
    in News

    TVA 1 2048x1365A hopper car on a train filled with coal to be delivered to a TVA coal-fired plant. John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout

    Climate bill designates TVA as a potential recipient of clean energy investments and loans

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

    KNOXVILLE  Clean-energy advocates are urging the Tennessee Valley Authority to use funds provided through the Inflation Reduction Act to deliver environmentally friendly energy to Tennessee customers. 

    The massive bill Congress passed Friday includes $370 billion for clean energy investments and listed TVA as an entity that is eligible to take advantage of clean energy credits and loans to significantly reduce the cost of energy-efficient infrastructure. 

    On Aug. 12, the Clean Up TVA Coalition, including the Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Appalachian Voices, urged TVA to take advantage of the legislation and make funds available to its affiliated local power companies, which can then offer energy-efficient options for customers.

  • Dems pass huge climate bill assailed by some as another fossil energy sop
    in News

    5 July 2022 US Significant Climate Events Map

    Record-setting bill will fund extensive efforts to address climate change, but the sausage-making deal is decried by some as a ‘suicide pact’

    This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate, along party lines, passed a sweeping energy, health care, climate and tax package Sunday afternoon, following an overnight marathon of votes that resulted in just a handful of notable changes to the legislation.

    The 755-page bill was passed after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the evenly divided Senate. It now heads to the House, where Democratic leaders have announced they will take it up on Friday.

    At last, we have arrived,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.  Democratic senators broke out into applause as Harris announced passage of the bill, expected to total more than $700 billion.

    Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he dedicated the measure to young Americans who have pushed and protested for the Senate to take action on climate change. 

  • Falcons in flight: Gatlinburg couple earns top conservation honors from Tennessee Wildlife Federation
    in News

    Worsham Conservationist of the Year1Arrowmont supporters Margit and Earl Worsham named Conservationists of the Year by Tennessee Wildlife Federation

    This story was provided by Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

    GATLINBURG — Margit and Earl Worsham stood in front of family, friends, and fellow conservationists on stage in Nashville this spring and were presented with a unique award of mahogany shaped like a peregrine falcon in flight.

    They were named the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s 2022 Conservationists of the Year at the federation’s 57th Annual Conservation Awards in May.

    It’s a prestigious honor presented to nominees considered to have the most significant contribution to the cause of natural resources conservation in Tennessee.