NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Middle Tennessee has numerous streams, creeks, and rivers, but water pollution is a growing threat to Middle Tennessee’s environment as more contaminants make their way into our water.
The pollution is getting worse, said Dorie Bolze, the President and CEO of the Harpeth Conservancy.
“More and more and more of the waterways are considered impaired by the state, which means they don’t meet water quality standards. It’s now 55% of the streams, the rivers, miles of the state.” She continued, “It’s getting worse, not better.”
A quickly rising population is straining an already delicate balance according to Bolze. “Everybody wants to move here. All right, which means now almost anything looks buildable. You are seeing pieces of property that nobody would ever have thought anybody would want to build on.”
Infrastructure also isn’t keeping pace with the increasing population. Small and outdated water treatment plants are struggling to accommodate as more people move to Middle Tennessee.
Add in more flooding events and increasing levels of pollution are being washed into Middle Tennessee’s waterways. “The bigger rain events are happening. They’re bigger now than they used to be, and they are stronger.”
Bolze continued, “And the rules and regulations in the engineering that were designed to help manage stormwater are not accounting for the fact that we get rain harder than we used to.”
So which pollutants are on the rise?
Dr. Ryan Jackwood has been studying what’s going into the Harpeth River and said nutrients from animal waste and fertilizers is leading to the overgrowth of algae.
He said, “When Algae grows, it can suck out the oxygen in the water, making it more difficult for fish to survive. They can grow in mats, and so kind of like shading the other kind of healthy plants from getting sunlight. And then they also are capable of producing toxins.”
Bacteria is another pollutant impacting local creeks, streams, and rivers, according to Dr. Jackwood. “If that water has a lot of high levels of E. Coli, then there’s a really good chance that there’s going to be human pathogens. So, stuff like salmonella and Legionnaires disease and you know, giardia, stuff like that that would make us sick.”
Both bacteria and algae blooms can lead to illness for those recreating in local waterways. Pets can also get sick from drinking or swimming in contaminated waters.
Both Bolze and Dr. Jackwood said improving infrastructure and taking steps to remove pollutants will help remove some of these problems.