Tennessee’s Abundant Waterways ‘At Risk’ Says Conservation Coalition Seeking $35 Million

Apr 3, 2017

A coalition of Tennessee groups has secured the backing of high-profile Republican lawmakers on a $35 million proposal to protect water quality, farmland and Civil War sites.

Yet it’s one of many requests being considered as Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his revised budget this week, and whether it will be funded remains a question.

The water conservation proposal would attempt to get Tennessee back on track with a plan written in 2006 to use the state’s conservation fund to purchase properties that border important waterways. The goal is to conserve 4 percent of the state’s 27 million acres by 2050.

“That proposal — we’re just not keeping pace,” said Kathleen Williams, a leader with the Forever Green Tennessee Task Force.

She has cities, utility districts, cattlemen and canoe clubs on board with the idea, and the lead legislative sponsors are now Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads.

The goal is to conserve waterways that provide drinking water, power, recreation, commercial opportunities and biological diversity — especially as the state population grows, Williams said.

“We’ve got a pollution problem already for fishing and swimming,” she said.

Williams’s coalition draws from several statewide and regional studies to pinpoint key waterways under pressure from development and population growth.

“We know where the most important land is in the state,” she said. “We can do this. We can forever green Tennessee.”

Among the targeted areas in Middle Tennessee:

  • more than 1,000 acres along the Harpeth River;
  • 14,000 acres on Skinner Mountain, home to the headwaters of Dale Hollow Lake;
  • a 10-mile stretch of the Blackburn Fork River that flows to Cummins Falls;

The proposal also seeks to put $5 million toward farmland preservation, $3 million toward Civil War battlefields and $2 million to historic sites — typically for properties that are eligible for federal funding and in need of state matching dollars.