Press Release | March 16, 2022

Settlement Better Protects Duck River from Impacts of Middle Tennessee’s Booming Growth

Conservation groups, local water utilities, and state officials reach settlement that protects North America’s most biodiverse river while providing for the needs of rapidly growing communities

Nashville, Tenn. — Represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, The Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation reached a settlement agreement with state officials and a local water utility that upholds Tennessee’s ability to responsibly manage water withdrawals from the Duck River. This settlement is an important victory for conservationists, anglers, paddlers, nearby communities, and for everyone who enjoys and relies on one of the country’s most unique waterways. 

The Duck River is North America’s most biodiverse river, with its basin supporting more species diversity than is found in all of Europe’s rivers combined. The waterway’s incredible wildlife – along with its scenic views and thriving sport fisheries – make the Duck River the backbone of the region’s outdoor recreation economy. The river supports an estimated 150,000 anglers, kayakers, canoers, and boaters annually, while also providing drinking water to approximately 250,000 people in Middle Tennessee. 

This settlement retains a water withdrawal limitation in the Marshall County Board of Public Utility’s water withdrawal permit while still expanding local communities’ access to clean drinking water. Withdrawal limitations restrict the amount of water pumped from the river during times of low flow or drought and protect the Duck River’s incredible wildlife and overall health.

The Marshall County Board of Public Utilities and the Duck River Development Agency had previously appealed the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s addition of a water withdrawal limitation in a permit authorizing MCBPU to build and operate a new water intake facility on the Duck River. SELC, on behalf of The Nature Conservancy and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, intervened in that appeal to defend TDEC’s use of reasonable water withdrawal limitations in its permits, leading to the settlement. 

This settlement also reinforces TDEC’s ability to include reasonable water withdrawal limitations in future permits on the Duck River and other waterways. 

“The Duck River is the crown jewel of the Tennessee river system, and this settlement will help ensure that the waterway, its exceptional wildlife, and its outdoor recreation opportunities don’t become a casualty of Middle Tennessee’s explosive growth.” SELC Senior Attorney George Nolan said. “This agreement is a great example of what can be accomplished when state officials, local utilities, and conservation groups work together to manage and protect Tennessee’s most beautiful and important natural resources.” 

In addition to keeping withdrawal limitations in place, TDEC also agreed to participate in or perform additional research to better understand the impact stream flows can have on the Duck River and its incredible wildlife. Those studies will help state officials, conservation groups, and other stakeholders better understand and protect one of the state’s most special and dynamic waterways. TDEC will reevaluate MCBPU’s withdrawal limitation after the agency completes this additional study of the flow needs of aquatic wildlife in the river.

“It is important to thank all involved in this agreement, as it represents a short-term path forward and hopefully will protect these important wildlife and water resources. Looking forward, we want to continue to work with communities along the Duck River to seek a collaborative and regional approaches to water supply planning that will help protect the river, provide adequate water for people, and avoid contentious issues that are sure to come if we don’t act proactively now,” said Mike Butler, chief executive officer, Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “The Federation is heartened that, as part of this settlement, we will gather data critical for smarter, more sustainable decisions with regards to our water sources as well as the impacts on our precious wildlife.” 

“The decisions we make about water infrastructure in the next few years will be felt for generations. We all want to see healthy rivers and thriving communities, and we all agree that water withdrawals should be informed by the best possible science.” said Rob Bullard, The Nature Conservancy’s Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers Program Director. “There is an urgent need for stakeholders in the Duck River watershed to collaboratively approach water supply questions, and this agreement is a big step in that direction.”

While this settlement is a step toward responsible management of the Duck River, more collaboration is needed to ensure the long-term health and protection of the river’s thriving ecosystem. To keep up with the region’s booming growth, several other water utilities have plans to significantly increase the amount of water they withdraw from the Duck River. Those combined increases could lead to an additional 19.7 million gallons of water being pumped from the Duck River each day – a 33 percent increase above amounts currently authorized by the state. 

It is critically important for state leaders to take a holistic approach to managing water consumption from Tennessee waterways.  The Duck River deserves thoughtful management and protection, and TDEC should not hesitate to use withdrawal limitations when necessary to safeguard such a pristine and biodiverse waterway. 

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Tennessee Wildlife Federation leads the conservation, sound management and wise use of Tennessee’s great outdoors. Since 1946, the Federation has spearheaded the development of the state’s wildlife policy, advanced landmark legislation on air and water quality and other conservation initiatives, helped restore numerous species, and introduced thousands of kids to the great outdoors. To learn more, visit tnwf.org.

The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive. Founded in the U.S. through grassroots action in 1951, The Nature Conservancy has grown to become one of the most effective and wide-reaching environmental organizations in the world. The Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy was established in 1978 and has helped protect more that 400,000 acres in Tennessee.

Press Contacts

Eric Hilt

Communications Manager (TN)

Phone: 615-921-9470
Email: ehilt@selctn.org

Partner Contacts

Colleen Dolan

Tennessee Wildlife Federation

Phone: 615-353-1133
Email: cdolan@tnwf.org