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Two Tennessee Rivers Listed as "Most Endangered for 2015"

PHOTO: The Holston River is listed as the third "most endangered river" in the nation by the group, American Rivers. Photo courtesy: flickr.com/dmott9
PHOTO: The Holston River is listed as the third "most endangered river" in the nation by the group, American Rivers. Photo courtesy: flickr.com/dmott9
April 10, 2015

KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Tennessee is the only state in the nation to have two rivers listed as "endangered" by the environmental group American Rivers.

The Holston River, in the northeast part of the state, ranks third on the list and the Harpeth River in middle Tennessee is listed ninth out of 10.

Erin McCombs, associate conservation director for the organization, explained why it's important that citizens and municipalities use the information included in their report released this week to protect the rivers.

"What I think is unique about having two listings in Tennessee," she said, "is that right now there is a real opportunity to really use the Clean Water Act and make sure that our regulatory agencies are keeping our rivers clean."

The Holston River makes the list because of toxic chemical pollution and the Harpeth River is listed because of sewage pollution and overuse. The Edisto River in South Carolina and the Pearl River in Louisiana were the other two southeastern rivers listed in the report, called "America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2015."

The Holston River provides drinking water for tens of thousands of Tennessee residents, as well as water for industry and recreation. McCombs said much of the damage done to the river is from a chemical called RDX, a toxic explosive and possible carcinogen that's released by the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport.

"What's kind of alarming about this," she said, "is that they're finding really high levels of this, much higher than the EPA guidelines are, and they're finding them very far downstream."

A spokesperson from the U.S. Army, which contracts with the Holston plant, said the "Army is working closely with the operating contractor and regulatory agencies to reduce RDX wastewater discharges at the plant."

The Harpeth River made the list because of the city of Franklin's sewer plant and the region's excessive water use. American Rivers is calling on state officials and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take steps to ensure the city uses the latest technology to reduce pollution to the river.

"During the summer, when we have really low periods of flow, the entire volume of the stream is sometimes up to around a third of effluent coming from the wastewater treatment plant," McCombs said, "and oftentimes we have elevated levels of pollutants."

A spokesperson for the city of Franklin said the city recently created a water resource plan and is in the process of implementing a sewer plant upgrade. The spokesperson said the health of the Harpeth River is impacted by other factors upstream before it flows through the city.

Tennessee is the only state in the country to have two rivers listed as "endangered" by the environmental group, American Rivers. Stephanie Carson has more on the rivers named on the list.

The report is online at act.americanrivers.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN