Press Release | April 23, 2024

Conservation Groups appeal permits that threaten ‘endangered’ Duck River

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, appealed water withdrawal permits issued to local utilities along the Duck River this week. The permits fail to protect the waterway from Middle Tennessee’s unprecedented and rapid growth.

The Duck River is a one-of-a-kind natural treasure. It supports a thriving sport fishery along with a wide array of aquatic wildlife, making it one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world. It is the backbone of the region’s booming outdoor recreation economy, with tens of thousands of anglers, kayakers, and boaters enjoying the river each year and contributing millions of dollars in recreational spending to local businesses.

But the Duck River is facing immense pressure from Middle Tennessee’s fast-paced growth. Eight utilities want to drastically increase the amount of water they take from the river. The utilities seek to increase their daily water consumption by 19 million gallons, for a total of 73 million gallons of water to be pumped from the river each day. That huge increase in water consumption threatens the health of the incredible river, puts its world-class wildlife at risk, and landed the Duck on a list of the ten ‘most endangered’ rivers in the U.S.

Instead of protecting the imperiled waterway, state environmental leaders have issued insufficient permits that do not address the long-term damage a massive increase in water consumption will cause. In March, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued permits to three of the eight utilities greenlighting their requests for more water. Unlike previous permits, the newly issued permits do not include enforceable flow restrictions, which regulate the amount of water pumped from the river during times of low flow or drought. Flow conditions are necessary to protect the Duck River’s wildlife, water quality, and overall health.

“There is only one Duck River, and it’s an incredibly special place. Relying upon surface water from smaller rivers in middle Tennessee is a failed long-term strategy for growth, our great outdoors, and the Tennesseans who rely upon the Duck. We can improve these permits, and start the discussion for a regional solution that meets water needs and protects the Duck. What we do now, with these permits, will decide the fate of the Duck River for generations”, said Mike Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

The permits also fail to include straightforward protective measures that would require utilities to use the water that they pull from the Duck River efficiently. For example, the permits allow utilities to leak a staggering 25 percent of the water they take from the river. If TDEC includes similar provisions in permits for all of the currently proposed outtakes, then the agency would authorize utilities to waste more than 18 million gallons Duck River water daily by leaking it into the ground unused.

“The Duck River is an exceptional, world-class waterway. It should not be sacrificed to failing infrastructure and poorly planned, unbridled development,” George Nolan, Director of SELC’s Tennessee Office, said. “There are commonsense ways to ensure that communities have the water they need without sucking the river dry. TDEC needs to add protective measures to its permits to safeguard the river for current and future generations.”

The permits have received strong backlash from local farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, and residents worried about the irreparable harm that unsustainable water withdrawals will have on the Duck River and downstream communities. TDEC is expected to issue final water withdrawal permits to the remaining four Duck River utilities in the coming months.

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Press Contacts

Eric Hilt

Senior Communications Manager (TN)

Phone: 615-921-9470
Email: [email protected]