U.S. Water News Online
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As fast as polluted streams in
Tennessee can be fixed, others are becoming too dirty for swimmers
and so polluted that fish are killed.
About four dozen Tennessee rivers and streams are too polluted to
support aquatic life or allow recreation, and that number has stayed
the same for the past 15 years, according to the Tennessee Department
of Environment and Conservation.
The state reported about four dozen rivers, basins and reservoirs
with too much pollution in a draft report issued this month, which is
prepared every two years.
Some are new additions, replacing a roughly equal number that have
been fixed. Others are continually on the list.
"We have seen essentially the same types of problems statewide for
more than a decade,'' said Garland Wiggins, deputy director of the
DEC, which has done the EPA-mandated monitoring since the late 1980s.
"There may be a small percentage that get worse, a small
percentage that get better. Overall, the number of streams meeting
the standards has remained constant.''
Only 65 to 70 percent of the state's creeks, streams and rivers
are considered clean enough to support desired uses, ranging from
such things as irrigation or fishing.
Wiggins said it's easiest to monitor and control pollution that
comes from industrial plants.
But there's a long list of pollutants that are much harder to
control: chlorine, fertilizer, leaking septic tanks, heavy metals
from abandoned mines or coal mining and runoff from cattle feed lots.
The most common source, though, continues to be runoff from
construction projects, Wiggins said.
It's harder for the state to control pollution from such things as
homeowners cutting down trees and shrubs on a stream -- potentially
causing algae to take hold and choke a stream -- or construction
projects overloading streams with silt, Wiggins said.
Will Callaway, director of Tennessee Environmental Council, said
he's bothered that Mill Creek in Davidson County keeps appearing on
the list because he said the road and house construction projects
causing silt could be better managed.
"The state should be taking a position that permitting in the area
should be given much more scrutiny,'' he said. "Yet the state is
allowing development of substantial size along Mill Creek, destroying
the bank and destroying the stream.''
Environmentalists say the monitoring program won't produce more
clean streams until regulators actively force people to follow the
"Basically it becomes an exercise in writing a recovery plan, and
then the plan sits,'' said Renee Hoyos, executive director of the
Tennessee Clean Water Network.
The Department of Conservation is taking its list of polluted
streams to a series of public meeting across the state, before
sending a report to the EPA on water quality in Tennessee later in
Wiggins said it's been harder to reduce the number of polluted
streams on the list because the EPA has lowered the allowable level
of certain pollutants. Streams once considered OK, now run afoul of
the tougher requirements, he said.
Still, he believes the number of polluted streams will eventually
start to shrink.
"More emphasis is being put on leaving the streams in their
natural condition,'' Wiggins said. "I would like for the water
quality to improve as a result of the work of industry,
municipalities, down to individual landowners who might choose to not
over-fertilize their lawns. I would like to see the list get smaller
and smaller as the years go by.''
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