Tennessee’s Wonderful Wetlands: A Billion-Dollar Ecosystem We Can’t Afford to Lose

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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
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Did You Know?

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.

Legislative Updates

House of Representatives

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

Next, HB1054 will be in front of the Tennessee House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, February 28 at 9am. Watch the live video of the meeting here.

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

SB0631 (companion bill to HB 1054) will be in front of the Tennessee Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on March 8, 2024.

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

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, Bradley, Cannon, Chester, Claiborne, Cocke, Coffee, DeKalb, Fayette, Franklin, Grainger, Grundy, Greene, Hancock, Hamblen, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lincoln, Meigs, McMinn, McNairy, Moore, Rhea, Rutherford, Sevier, Shelby, Tipton, Unicoi, Union, Warren, Wayne

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

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

1. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Why are Wetlands Important?. EPA. https://rebrand.ly/epawetlands

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