Environmental group lists Harpeth, Holston Rivers as endangered

Tennessee’s Harpeth and Holston Rivers are listed among the nation’s most endangered streams by an environmental group, reports The Tennessean.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a tipping point,” Erin McCombs of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit American Rivers said in a statement.

The Harpeth, which runs through downtown Franklin, and the Holston River in East Tennessee were both ranked (numbers nine and three, respectively) in the organization’s annual report, making Tennessee the only state to have two of its waterways listed.

That, McCombs said Monday, is “rare, but not unprecedented,” adding that the report “highlights that Tennessee has a real opportunity to do the right thing.”

The report says that as Franklin continues to grow, the Harpeth — beloved by local paddlers and anglers — faces rising threats in the form of sewage pollution from the city’s treatment plant and drinking water withdrawals that are too much for the river’s ecosystem to handle.

Franklin, an American Rivers news release said, is one of the most rapidly developing cities in the nation, compounding the Harpeth’s pollution risk.

…But Franklin officials take issue with the Harpeth’s inclusion on the list, saying that the city’s $2 million Integrated Water Resources Plan shows that the city has a sophisticated road map for ensuring the river’s health.

…(T)he American Rivers report says East Tennessee’s Holston River is being polluted by a U.S. Army-run ammunition plant that has been contaminating the water with “toxic chemical pollution for years.”

A “highly explosive chemical” known as RDX has been found in the river, the report says, which supplies drinking water for tens of thousands of residents.

“It’s critical that the state takes its enforcement responsibilities seriously and protects our clean drinking water from polluters,” said Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

The network has filed a federal lawsuit over alleged Clean Water Act permit violations.

And state regulators, the report says, have “done little to stop the RDX discharges.”

TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman wrote in an email late Monday that the agency hadn’t had a chance to review the report…In any case, Brockman wrote, “it is important that we write permits based on data and science, in a transparent process and in accordance with our authority under the law.”

“This is true for the Harpeth and Holston Rivers, and all Tennessee waters.”