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Tennessee Wetlands

Right now, a bill (HB1054/SB0631) that would remove protections for 55% of Tennessee’s wetlands is making its way through the Tennessee legislature. This should be of concern to anyone who lives, fishes, hunts, recreates, or drinks water in the State of Tennessee! 

Wetlands play a critical role in maintaining a healthy and robust way-of-life for all Tennesseans. Among their many benefits, protected wetlands… 

  • Reduce the devastating impacts of flooding, 
  • Recharge aquifers in West Tennessee, providing drinking water for thousands of residents, 
  • Filter pollution from our beloved rivers and streams, 
  • Provide healthy habitat for Tennessee’s globally unique biodiversity, and 
  • Ensure beautiful outdoors spaces for recreation and enjoyment. 

Legislative Updates

House of Representatives

HB1054 was discussed by the Tennessee House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee on January 23, January 30, and February 6, 2024. During the February 6th meeting, the bill passed by a majority vote. 

HB1054 was discussed by the Tennessee House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 28, March 6, and March 13.

On March 20, the Tennessee House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee passed HB1054 by a majority vote, sending the bill to the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

To catch up on the discussions from each meeting, watch the video recordings which can be found here, under the “Video” tab.

Stay tuned for updates.

Senate

On March 6, the Tennessee Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted to send SB0631 (companion bill to HB 1054), aka the wetlands bill, to summer study, effectively shelving the bill. 

To catch up on the discussions from each meeting, watch the video recordings which can be found here, under the “Video” tab

We Need Your Help

Senate

“We applaud the Senate for sending the bill to summer study to provide time for a more in-depth review. We look forward to working on solutions with all the stakeholders,” said Grace Stranch, CEO of Harpeth Conservancy.

Thank you to the partners and Tennesseans who have helped work collectively and collaboratively to see protections for our wonderful wetlands remain intact. We couldn’t be more grateful and proud to be part of such a community. A win for wetlands in the Senate is a win for Tennessee!

 

House of Representatives

If you live in one of these Tennessee counties, please contact Marie at mariecampbell@harpethriver.org to learn more about how you can help!

Bedford, Benton, Bledsoe, Blount, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Hardeman, Hamilton, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Houston, Humphreys, Knox, Lake, Lauderdale, Lincoln, Loudon, Madison, Moore, Obion, Rhea, Roane, Sequatchie, Shelby, Stewart, Sullivan, Weakley, Van Buren

Did You Know?

Wetlands play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance and supporting biodiversity, and Tennessee is no exception to the significance of these precious ecosystems. “Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. An immense variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem.”1Wetlands, often regarded as nature’s kidneys, provide essential ecosystem services that contribute to the health of our environment. “Wetlands provide values that no other ecosystem can. These include natural water quality improvement, flood protection, shoreline erosion control, opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation and natural products for our use at no cost. Protecting wetlands can protect our safety and welfare.”2
Duck River Bottoms, Duck River Unit, Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Tennessee
Photo by: Tim Lumley
CC Usage
Wetlands act as crucial buffers against floods and storm surges. A one-acre wetland can typically store about one million gallons of water, so when developers and industry destroy wetlands, communities lose flood protection.4 Constant removal of these natural buffers, leaves communities vulnerable to flooding and other environmental disasters, many of which Middle Tennessee has been a firsthand witness to over the last decade.

Wetlands also remove pollutants like PFAS, microplastics, heavy metals, and bacteria. These valuable ecosystems essentially act as natural filters, trapping and purifying water by removing pollutants and excess nutrients. In Tennessee, where various waterways crisscross the landscape, wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining water quality and preventing downstream contamination of rivers and aquifers.

Across the state, approximately 66% of Tennesseans get drinking water from a public utility that uses surface water (rivers and lakes) as a source; 26% of people get there drinking water from a public utility that uses groundwater (aquifers); and another 8% of people have private wells.7 Keeping wetlands, our natural filters, in place is crucial for maintaining our clean water supply. Wetlands contribute to the availability of clean water, a resource essential for both human consumption and agriculture.

The destruction of wetlands could disrupt the natural flow of water, negatively impacting fish populations and, would ultimately lead to the loss of biodiversity disrupting the delicate balance of ecosystems, impacting the overall health of Tennessee’s environment.

Less of this

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More of this
From an ecological standpoint, the interconnectedness of wetlands with rivers and aquifers is inseparable. With some of the most biodiverse waterways in the world being found right here in Tennessee, it is vitally important to highlight the interdependence of other water bodies upon wetlands to understand why we must work to maintain a delicate balance within the overall ecosystem. In Tennessee, wetland forests are not just an environmental asset, but they impact our economy as well. Valued at $7.8 Billion, our wetland forests not only provide billions in protection from extreme events and water flow regulation, but also billions in water supply, waste treatment, food, tourism, and recreation–just to name a few services we receive from this ecosystem.9

In conclusion, the importance of wetlands in Tennessee cannot be emphasized enough. These ecosystems are integral to maintaining water quality, supporting biodiversity, and providing essential ecosystem services. Keep an eye on legislation such as HB1054/SB0631, which could pose a significant threat to the future of wetlands and the rivers they support across Tennessee. Lawmakers and the public must recognize the value of wetlands and work together towards policies that prioritize their conservation, ensuring a sustainable and healthy future for Tennessee’s environment and ALL of its residents.

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For more information on wetlands, we've listed our sources below:

1. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Why are Wetlands Important?. EPA

2. Id.

4. EPA, Wetlands: Protecting Life and Property from Flooding, 2006 at https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-02/documents/flooding.pdf

6. Water quality rules, reports & publications. Water Quality Rules, Reports & Publications. https://www.tn.gov/environment/program-areas/wr-water-resources/water-quality/water-quality-reports—publications.html

8. U.S. Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Why are wetlands important?. National Parks Service. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/wetlands/why.htm

9. The Dogwood Alliance. (n.d.). Tennessee State Fact Sheet https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/esr/Tennessee-State-Fact-Sheet.pdf