Settlement to set new protections for Tennessee’s Harpeth River

An agreement reached Tuesday sets a new standard for water quality of the Harpeth River, south of Nashville. (© Tom Thomson/Harpeth River Watershed Association)

Resolving a two-year legal battle, SELC and conservation partner Harpeth River Watershed Association (HRWA) have successfully reached a settlement with the City of Franklin, Tennessee over discharges from its sewage treatment plant into the Harpeth River.

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 will assess the health and the risks to the Harpeth River and its tributaries to ensure the river meets water quality standards moving forward. 

“All parties came to the table to work together for the sake of the Harpeth River,” said Anne Davis, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Nashville office. “This settlement not only addresses the issues identified by HRWA, but it also sets the groundwork for new collaborative efforts that should better protect the Harpeth River’s health for years to come.”

In 2014, SELC and 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, the other two of which were quickly resolved. The Harpeth River, a designated State Scenic River and popular recreation spot that flows south of Nashville through the city of Franklin, was named by American Rivers one of the country’s most endangered rivers last year.

The settlement agreement, which will be sent to the United States District Court and Department of Justice for approval, outlines how Franklin will establish permanent flow monitors at its treatment plant to ensure it’s functioning properly, as well as conduct new assessments upstream and downstream to monitor health indicators. The city also has pledged funding for new sewer collection system improvements and a new sewer overflow response plan. The precedent-setting water quality study of the Harpeth River watershed will include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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