Restoring the Harpeth River

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SELC’s Anne Davis on the future of sustainability in Nashville More »

Anne Davis, managing attorney of SELC’s Nashville office, was recently named by Mayor Megan Barry to the Livable Nashville Committee—an initiative working to enhance Nashville’s quality of life, provide environmental leadership, and implement a wide range of sustainability projects.

As one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, the next decade holds challenges and opportunities alike for Nashville. Under the previous administration of Davis’s husband, former Mayor Karl Dean, a number of conversations and actions began that Mayor Barry is furthering about how to sustainably and responsibly address the city’s growth—efforts that include natural resource management, environmentally-friendly transportation, waste reduction and recycling, green buildings, and climate and energy.

Here is Davis’ take on her involvement on the new Committee, and how she anticipates the effort to unfold over the next few years.

Q: As a new member of the Livable Nashville Committee, what are your goals for the Livable Nashville Committee during your time on the committee?

First and foremost, my goal as a Livable Nashville Committee member is to work with other Nashvillians to achieve the Mayor Megan Barry’s vision of being a healthier and more sustainable place to live.

Q: How does this goal build on, or differ from, the successes and strategies of the past?

My husband, Karl Dean, and Nashville’s previous administration facilitated the Green Ribbon Committee. In 2008, they created a comprehensive plan for the city, called “Together Making Nashville Green.” In 2015, before my husband left office, he reported that 93% of the Green Ribbon Committee’s goals outlined in the report had been reached. The team that Mayor Barry has now assembled is a broad cross-section of our community, and with the involvement of various department heads and government officials, we’ll pick up where the Green Ribbon Committee left off.

Since my husband’s administration, Nashville’s population has grown, technology has changed, and overall, the public willingness to embrace sustainability initiatives has increased. The city feels ready to embrace even more sustainable living and this is a true opportunity to do so.

Q: What sustainability challenges face Nashville, specifically, and how do you envision the Livable Nashville Committee addressing them?

It’s a challenge with many sustainability efforts to involve the business community. People think these efforts are going to cost more in both the short run and in the long run. You’ve got to have an administration like Mayor Barry’s that is truly committed to these initiatives, because change comes from the top down.

Another important challenge to overcome is involving and educating diverse populations from the community, including individuals from different industries, professions, demographics and backgrounds. Ideas come from all over the community, so it’s important that these individuals go back after learning about sustainable living efforts in order to educate their peers.

Q: How will SELC’s work support the efforts of the Livable Nashville Committee?

SELC can bring expertise to various issues across our region, as well as Nashville-specific issues. One area we are particularly involved in is water restoration and management. We’re working to get our streams and rivers removed from impaired stream lists and endangered rivers lists, and also collaborating with partner groups to clean up local waterways.

Transportation reform is another area in which SELC’s expertise plays a critical role. As a community, we’re working to improve bicycle and pedestrian opportunities. It’s important that we bring our organizational knowledge from other cities and regions where we’ve helped address these issues.

Q: What’s your advice to other cities in Tennessee, or in the Southeast region more generally, that are looking to start similar sustainability initiatives?

First and most importantly, you need a mayor who truly believes in your efforts. It’s the mayor’s responsibility to get the entire government involved, so that people on the sustainability committee won’t encounter impediments.

It’s also important to include a large cross-section of your community in order to be successful. You have to have accountability, as well as goals and recommendations that are measurable, so that several years down the road you’ll be able to see if they’re being achieved. If they’re not, figure out why not and what else can be done.

Read more about the Nashville Livable Committee.

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One of America's Most Endangered Rivers in 2015

As the Harpeth River flows through Davidson County in Nashville before emptying into the Cumberland River, it carries the unique distinction of being a State Scenic River. It is an important recreation destination in Middle Tennessee and has rich aquatic biodiversity. The health of the river, which provides tremendous aesthetic, recreational, and biological value to Tennessee, is being threatened. In 2015, American Rivers named the Harpeth River one of America's Most Endangered Rivers, a designation given to rivers with significance to human and natural communities that are facing critical decisions in the coming year.

Threats to the River

The Harpeth River flows through the heart of downtown Franklin, one of the fastest growing city in the United States, and traverses Williamson County, one of the fastest growing counties in Tennessee. This rapid development threatens the river with mounting pollution from stormwater runoff and treated sewage and increasing demands for water withdrawal. During the summer months when the river experiences natural low flows, sewage effluent can dominate the river. The pollution problem is exacerbated by the withdrawal of water from the river for the City's drinking water supply. 

Taking Action

In 2014, SELC and Harpeth River Watershed Association (HRWA) took legal action against three sewage treatment plants along the Harpeth River for ongoing permit violations and excessive sewage discharge in violation of the Clean Water Act. As a result, Harpeth Wastewater Cooperative and Cartwright Creek sewage treatment plants agreed to join a multi-stakeholder effort to restore the health of the Harpeth River. These utilities committed to expanding water quality monitoring in the river, developing a pollution management plan, and joining a diverse stakeholder group to work cooperatively on improving water quality. 

In 2016, SELC and HRWA successfully reached a settlement with the City of Franklin. In addition to new protections and monitoring for sewage discharges, part of the settlement agreement is a comprehensive study focusing on the entire Harpeth River watershed, the first such study in Tennessee. This landmark effort, in which SELC is one of the participants, is assessing the health and the risks to the Harpeth River and its tributaries to ensure the river meets water quality standards moving forward. 

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