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  • Monday, February 06, 2023 2:42 PM | Sally Barr

    NEWS | MARCH 17, 2022

    Settlement protects Duck River from impacts of Middle Tennessee’s booming growth

    Conservation groups, local water utilities, and state officials reached an important settlement that protects Middle Tennessee’s Duck River while providing for the needs of a rapidly growing region.

    SELC represented The Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation in the case, which led to a settlement that upholds the state’s ability to responsibly manage water withdrawals from the river. The settlement is an important victory for conservationists, anglers, paddlers, nearby communities, and for everyone who enjoys and relies on one of the country’s most unique waterways.

    The “crown jewel” of the Tennessee river system

    Tennessee’s Duck River is the backbone of the region’s outdoor recreation economy. (©Dusty Dodridge)

    The case centered around the Duck River, which is the most biodiverse river in North America. The river’s basin supports more species of diversity than is found in all of Europe’s rivers combined, and its incredible wildlife populations include threatened, endangered, and unique species that are found nowhere else.

    The waterway’s incredible biodiversity – along with its scenic views and thriving sport fisheries – make the Duck River the backbone of the region’s outdoor recreation economy. The river supports an estimated 150,000 anglers, kayakers, canoers, and boaters annually, and attracts outdoors enthusiasts from across the state.

    “The Duck River is the crown jewel of the Tennessee river system, and this settlement will help ensure that the waterway, its exceptional wildlife, and its outdoor recreation opportunities don’t become a casualty of Middle Tennessee’s explosive growth,” SELC Senior Attorney George Nolan said. “This agreement is a great example of what can be accomplished when state officials, local utilities, and conservation groups work together to manage and protect Tennessee’s most beautiful and important natural resources.”

    A significant settlement

    In August 2021, the Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation issued a water withdrawal permit to the Marshall County Board of Public Utility, which is planning to build a new water intake facility to keep up with Middle Tennessee’s fast-paced growth. TDEC included water withdrawal limitations in the permit, which restrict the amount of water which can be pumped from the river during times of low flow or drought and serves to protect the Duck River’s incredible wildlife and overall health.

    The Duck River is the crown jewel of the Tennessee river system and this settlement will help ensure that the waterway, its exceptional wildlife, and its outdoor recreation opportunities don’t become a casualty of Middle Tennessee’s explosive growth.   - GEORGE NOLAN, SENIOR ATTORNEY

    The utility and the Duck River Development Agency appealed the permit, seeking to remove the withdrawal limitations. The Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, represented by SELC, intervened in the case, leading to this significant settlement. The agreement upholds TDEC’s ability to manage water withdrawals and reinforces the state’s ability to include reasonable water withdrawal limitations in future permits on the Duck River and other waterways.

    In addition to keeping withdrawal limitations in place, TDEC also agreed to participate in or perform additional research to better understand the impact stream flows can have on the Duck River and its incredible wildlife. Those studies will help state officials, conservation groups, and other stakeholders better understand and protect one of the state’s most special and dynamic waterways. TDEC will reevaluate MCBPU’s withdrawal limitation after the agency completes this additional study of the flow needs of aquatic wildlife in the river.

    A need for continued collaboration

    (©Dusty Dodridge)

    While this settlement is a step toward responsible management of the Duck River, more collaboration is needed to ensure the long-term health and protection of the river’s thriving ecosystem. Several other water utilities currently have plans to significantly increase the amount of water they withdraw from the Duck River. Those combined increases could lead to an additional 19.7 million gallons of water being pumped from the Duck River each day – a 33 percent increase above amounts currently authorized by the State.

    It is critically important for state leaders to take a holistic approach to managing water consumption from Tennessee waterways. The Duck River deserves thoughtful management and protection, and TDEC should not hesitate to use withdrawal limitations when necessary to safeguard such a pristine and biodiverse waterway.

  • Sunday, August 21, 2022 1:08 PM | Sally Barr

    Buck Logging Project Threatens Old Growth In North Carolina                   

    Nantahala National Forest


    Buck Creek burbles through a rich cove forest high on the slopes of the Nantahala Mountains in southwestern North Carolina. Spared by logging around the turn of the last century, some of the trees here are over 300 years old. Further down, the creek widens and supports a healthy trout population and even the occasional, rare eastern hellbender. Still further, the water flows into the Nantahala River where thousands of whitewater rafters will ride its crests through Patton’s Run and other rapids.

    But high in the mountains, the air is still. For now. The Forest Service has proposed the “Buck Project” here. One of the largest timber sales in recent memory in North Carolina, the project aims to create young forest for wildlife habitat through commercial logging, including 150 acres of forest over 100 years old.

    It is time for the Biden administration to act to protect mature and old-growth forests.

    Go to the link below to send a pre-written letter to which you can add your own comments:

  • Sunday, July 31, 2022 7:23 PM | Sally Barr

    Did you know the Mississippi River provides us with so much? More than 18 million people in 50 cities get their drinking water from the Mississippi. Our River is a migration "flyway" for 325 bird species and provides habitat for more than 780 animal species. Additionally, the Mississippi supports 1.3 million jobs and provides $400 billion in ecosystem services annually.

    Unfortunately, habitat is being degraded, new sources of water contamination go unchecked, precious wetlands are being drained and lost, and flood damages are escalating. The threats are so severe that our beloved Mississippi River was named the #6 Most Endangered River of 2022 by American Rivers. We must give our mighty Mississippi the care and protection it needs.

    Thankfully, solutions exist. Many people, organizations, communities, and elected officials have been working together to create the Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative (or 'The MRRRI Act'). This once-in-a-lifetime policy initiative will increase investments in:

    1) clean water,
    2) healthy habitats,
    3) nature-based solutions to flooding, and
    4) decrease harmful aquatic invasive species.

    Today, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the River needs your help. You can make a difference for people, land, water, and wildlife by sending an email via the link below. Take this fast and meaningful action now!

  • Sunday, July 31, 2022 6:22 PM | Sally Barr
    The Conservation Committee attended an enlightening presentation on Tennessee CLEAN, a statewide anti-litter initiative created by Tennessee Wildlife Federation—an independent wildlife nonprofit. Lindsay Gardner and Aubrey Thompson, presenters, stated that Tennessee is the 1st state in the country to undergo such a huge initiative and the country is watching what they do. There has been concern that this is a Bottle Bill in disguise, but it is definitely not! 

    Find out what this is all about through the following links:

    Here is the link to sign the petition.

    Bill Number: Tennessee CLEAN Act SB2693/HB2759

    Here is the link to the general campaign website.

    Here is the link to join the coalition.

    Facebook: Tennessee Clean Act -

    Instagram: @tenncleanact -

  • Wednesday, June 29, 2022 6:43 AM | Sally Barr

    TSRA has signed onto the Climate Forests Campaign supporting the need to see a lasting, durable rule that protects mature and old-growth forests from logging on federal public lands. We feel it is important to push back against the Forest Service’s narrative that logging is no longer a threat to mature and old-growth forests. Healthy, mature forest ecosystems help protect watersheds across large areas of the United States. Logging these forests can lead to erosion, poor water quality, and degraded habitat. Further, dense young plantations can reduce water quantity in streams and rivers. Overall, intact healthy forests contribute to healthy watersheds, which will be especially valuable as the impacts of climate change, such as drought and heatwaves, become more severe. The link to the press release is below:

  • Monday, March 28, 2022 9:31 PM | Sally Barr

    In 1986, the Nashville crayfish was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The natural habitat of the Nashville crayfish is restricted to the 28 miles of Mill Creek and its smaller tributaries. It’s location in Nashville makes the crayfish vulnerable to the effects of water quality deterioration, habitat degradation and risk of chemical spills. 

    In November 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove the Nashville crayfish from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife. In October of 2020, they held an online public hearing. The Service has identified making a decision about this delisting on their regulatory agenda for the first half of 2022.

    In August of 2021, Southern Environmental Law Center sent a letter on behalf of TSRA and other environmental organizations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bringing attention to how recent climate change research, as well as President Biden’s policies reiterating the importance of science-based decision-making in the face of climate change, further emphasized the need to retain the strongest protections for the Nashville crayfish. 

  • Tuesday, March 08, 2022 3:40 PM | Sally Barr

    The Big Swan Headwaters Preserve contains a 140-acre tract of land encompassing the headwater streams of Star Branch- a major tributary of the Big Swan Creek in Lewis County, TN.  The land comprises beautiful and biodiverse hardwood forests, headwater streams, waterfalls, calcareous seeps, two hayfields now restored in native grasses and wildflowers, rare plants, and prime habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds and year-round resident birds. The wetland on the property is a large calcareous seep, almost one acre in size.  Many species of ferns, sedges, rushes, and wildflowers grow in the seep, surrounded by large, mature hardwood trees. 

    TSRA pledged a $5,000 commitment last year to support Swan Conservation Trust’s purchase of this property. A hike will be held on the property and along the Swan Creek Saturday, April 30, 2022. We will meet at The Farm Store in Summertown, TN at 11:00 a.m. Check our calendar for more information.

  • Saturday, January 23, 2021 6:45 AM | James Parnell (Administrator)

    Nature Votes 2021 Goes Virtual


    Consider supporting the event as a Patron or Sponsor! 

    Double your donation! This year, a generous donor has agreed to match your donation to DOUBLE your IMPACT!


  • Tuesday, November 26, 2019 4:54 PM | Anonymous

    TSRA's Board of Directors has approved a $5,000 contribution to help purchase and conserve the Lone Star Tract on the Cumberland PlateauTennGreen is leading this project to purchase 6,650 acres that will ultimately become a significant addition to Cumberland Trail State Park, providing the opportunity to reconnect a key segment of the Cumberland Trail, restore a critical wildlife corridor and protect nearby rivers and streams.

    Lone Star has over 22 miles of freshwater streams that flow into three separate watersheds: Daddys Creek Lower, Daddys Creek Middle and Piney Creek. The tract includes a section of river frontage on Daddys Creek and the headwaters of Fall Creek (Ozone Falls). Because much of the Lone Star property has been impacted by timber harvest and mineral extraction, this acquisition is imperative to protect the water quality of these streams and watersheds. 

  • Wednesday, May 09, 2012 12:00 PM | James Parnell (Administrator)

     Written by  Becky Johnson

     09 May 2012

    Evergreen Packaging has reached a partial settlement with environmental groups over pollution from the Canton paper mill in the Pigeon River.

    Environmental groups had challenged the mill’s pollution permit, claiming that the standards weren’t tight enough. There were two bones of contention: how warm the river gets and the dark color the river takes on due to the mill’s discharges.

    The portion of the suit dealing with temperature fluctuations to the river has been settled. Initially, the mill was permitted to raise the temperature of the river by 15 degrees Fahrenheit with its discharges, as measured at a monitoring point about half a mile downstream.

    The limit was based on a monthly average, however, so spikes much higher were acceptable as along as it evened out over the course of a month to stay within the acceptable 15 degrees.

    Now, the mill has agreed to an additional temperature criteria based on a weekly average. The river cannot exceed a maximum temperature of 89 degrees in summer or 84 degrees in the winter based on a weekly average, under the terms of the new settlement.

    That is largely within the temperature confines the mill adheres to already.

    “This agreement largely validates what was already a good permit ... the result of a good process,” Blue Ridge Plant Manager Dane Griswold said in a statement. “Having this issue settled means we can continue to provide jobs for hundreds of Western North Carolina families, continue to meet the needs of our customers and ensure the quality of the Pigeon River continues to improve.”

    Hope Taylor, the director of Clean Water for North Carolina, said the temperature standard is still too lax in her book.

    “We would have liked to go far enough to have a true mountain cold water stream downstream of the mill,” Taylor said.

    But moving the mill toward a weekly average instead of a monthly average is still progress, said Taylor, who has been wrangling with the Canton paper mill over water quality issues for more than a decade.

    Taylor said in some instances water in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit has been discharged into the river by the mill. For monitoring purposes, however, the river’s temperature is taken about half a mile downstream of the discharge point, after the hotter water has mixed with the rest of the river.

    The lawsuit was filed by Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of several groups: the Western North Carolina Alliance, Clean Water for North Carolina, the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, Cocke County, Tenn., and Clean Water Expected for East Tennessee.

    The paper mill sucks roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in a myriad of aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp  — and then dumps it back in the river again.

    The settlement was reached “without any admission of liability” on Evergreen’s part, the agreement makes a point of noting.

    Too dark? You decide

    Another area environmental groups contested in the suit is how dark the river’s color should be. Discharges from the mill darken the color of the river. The state considers this purely an aesthetic issue, governed by a subjective standard. Whether the river is too dark is in the eye of the beholder.

    The state has wagered that the color of the river is acceptable, and the mill no longer needs regulation on this front. Environmental groups argued the river is still too dark, however.

    To resolve the issue, the mill will soon undertake a public perception study. A random panel will be asked to size up the color of the river upstream and downstream of the mill.

    The environmental groups have agreed to table their concerns over color pending the outcome of the study. In the meantime, Taylor said her organization is riding herd on the protocols for how the study will be carried out to ensure it is done fairly.

    “Blue Ridge Paper is paying for the consultants who are coming in to do this study, so you have to assume they would bias the study,” Taylor said. “There is a way to really manipulate the way the study goes.”

    For example, the mill initially proposed taking the panel to view downstream portions of the river first where the water is darker due to the discharges, then to the upstream portions where the water is clear. But the color contrast of the river downstream would likely be more striking if viewed the other way around — seeing the clear stretch first then the darker stretch, Taylor said. So she proposed a different methodology: splitting the panel into two groups in terms of viewing order.

    “We said, ‘No, you have to have to have half of them go one way and half go the other way,’” Taylor said.

    Taylor also wants to ensure the panel doesn’t have anyone on it who works at the mill, or whose family members work at the mill. She is also scrutinizing the way the questions will be phrased and the spectrum of multiple-choice answers.

    Mike Cohen, a spokesperson for the Canton mill, said the issue of color is primarily aesthetic, thus the subjective standard is appropriate.

    But Taylor believes there are underlying ecological concerns from the color of the river.

    “We see that color as evidence of the chemical soup coming into the river,” Taylor said. Some of those compounds could be toxic, said Taylor, even though the state doesn’t currently classify them as toxic.

    Even on the basis of aesthetics, the color is still a black mark against the mill, according to the lawsuit.

    “We believe the dark color makes the river less desirable for fishing, rafting and wading than other, less polluted rivers nearby,” said Daniel Boone of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association in a press statement.

    Taylor said the mill should not deprive the public from being able to use and enjoy the river as a resource.

    Whether the public is indeed bothered by the river’s color — based on the opinions of the random panel that is selected — will be borne out by the study in coming months, with the results finalized in early 2013.

    The parties in the suit will then revisit the issue of color. The mill hopes the study will resolve the concerns and the rest of the suit can be dismissed, according to a statement by the mill.

    Permit, take III

    The environmental standards in the mill’s water pollution permit have already been tightened once compared to what the state initially suggested. The state was sent back to the drawing board once by the Environmental Protection Agency, which intervened in the pollution permit two years ago.

    The state had initially recommended looser temperature criteria. The state also deemed the mill had already done enough to improve the color in the river, and that the color discharges were now acceptable and no longer needed regulating through a permit.

    But the EPA called for tighter limits, telling the state to tighten up temperature fluctuations. Under the state’s original permit, the mill would have been allowed to raise the river’s temperature by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit downstream of the mill based on a monthly average, but the EPA reined it in to only 15 degrees warmer.

    The EPA also wasn’t convinced color was no longer an issue. The study to determine whether color was within acceptable levels was a result of the EPA stepping in, Taylor said. The EPA also wanted tougher monitoring requirements on dioxins and fish tissue testing.

    The permit was approved by the state two years ago in May 2010. Technically, the permits are up for review every five years.

    “It is pretty much a continual process,” said Cohen, the mill spokesperson.

    In reality, it is often longer between permits. Before the new one was adopted in 2010, the last one before that dated to 2001. The mill operated under an extension of that 2001 permit for four years while a new one was being worked out.

    The river downstream from the mill is far cleaner today than anytime in the mill’s 100-year history. The Pigeon River was once so polluted few fish species could survive and it was unsafe for people to swim in.

    During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $300 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by expensive class action lawsuits.

    The biggest environmental victory of the 1990s was getting the mill to drastically reduced dioxin, the most toxic chemical discharged into the river. The final health advisory against eating fish caught downstream of the mill was lifted in 2005. Fish once wiped out by the mill’s pollution are being reintroduced in a joint effort between the mill and state wildlife and environmental agencies.

    But environmentalists and downstream communities want the mill to make further improvements. But instead, it seems progress has plateaued.

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