American Rivers Names Harpeth River One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2015

Harpeth MER, Social Media Large 2

Contact: Dorie Bolze, Harpeth River Watershed Association, (615) 479-0181
Erin McCombs, American Rivers, (828) 649-7887

4/7/2015 Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named the Harpeth River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2015 today, highlighting the threat sewage pollution and excessive water withdrawals pose to clean water and public health.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a tipping point,” said Erin McCombs of American Rivers. “Unless state officials require improved sewage treatment, pollution will choke this river that is an oasis for families, anglers, and paddlers.”

The Harpeth flows through the heart of downtown Franklin, the 14th fastest growing city in the United States, and traverses Williamson County, one of the fastest growing counties in Tennessee. This rapid development has already impacted the river with treated sewage and water withdrawals.

American Rivers called on state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure, through a new pending permit, that the City of Franklin’s sewer plant expansion and current operations incorporate state-of-the-art technology for nutrient pollution to reduce harm to the Harpeth River.

American Rivers also called on the state to issue the new state water withdrawal permit to the city based on the most recent scientific understanding of minimum river flows needed to protect fish and habitat. In addition, city elected officials must hold off on funding decisions for any city drinking water plant production upgrades until the state permit is issued, especially since the city’s main source of drinking water is not the Harpeth. This will ensure communities continue to enjoy clean water and the health of the Harpeth River is protected, and that city ratepayer dollars (estimated to be $70 million to $100 million) are spent in a cost-effective and responsible manner.

Another river in Tennessee, the Holston River, also made this year’s Most Endangered list because of pollution from chemical explosives discharged by an army ammunitions plant. The Most Endangered listing of two rivers in Tennessee this year underscores the importance of the state’s role in safeguarding clean water.  

“A unique freshwater river system in the Southeast, the Harpeth has reached a critical point where sewage discharge and water withdrawal threatens the health of the river, especially during the summer months when the river is naturally low flowing,” said Dorene Bolze, Executive Director of the Harpeth River Watershed Association. “We hope to work in partnership with the sewage treatment plants, local governments, and state and federal agencies – as our organization has done for nearly 15 years – to find and implement solutions that will protect this Tennessee gem that belongs to everyone.”

The Harpeth River and its tributaries are home to rich freshwater biodiversity, including more than 50 species of fish and 30 species of mussels. Several of these species are classified by Tennessee as rare and in need of management, and two mussel species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Harpeth River is rich in history, and played a major role in the Battle of Franklin 150 years ago, a battle that determined the outcome of the Nashville Campaign, and ultimately the Western Theater of the Civil War. 

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates.  Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

“This year’s report underscores the importance of healthy rivers to each and every American,” said Irvin. “Whether it’s for clean drinking water, ample water supplies for farms and cities, abundant fish and wildlife, or iconic places vital to our heritage, we all have a stake in protecting our nation’s rivers.”