Harpeth Conservancy: Efforts to Protect TN Rivers

Host Jeremy C. Park talks with Grace Stranch, COO and Vice President of Conservation and Policy, along with Frederick Gonzalez, Communications and Outreach Manager, with Harpeth Conservancy, who both highlight the Middle Tennessee based nonprofit focused on restoring and protecting the rivers in Tennessee by employing scientific expertise and collaborative relationships that develop, promote and support broad community stewardship and action. During the interview, Grace and Frederick share some of the history for the organization, talk about their efforts and impact, why their work is so important to the future of Nashville and the state of Tennessee, and how some of their work around policy, permits and zoning have helped protect both citizens and our water. They also talk about ways the community can get involved, including some upcoming events, like their annual Family Fun Day in Franklin on June 18, 2022, and then their River Swing on September 17, 2022.

  • Our vision is clean water and healthy ecosystems for rivers in Tennessee championed by the people who live here. And our goal is to restore and protect the rivers here in Tennessee by employing scientific expertise and collaborative relationships that develop, promote and support broad community stewardship and action.
    • Over 60% of Tennessee residents rely on waterways for their drinking water but over 50% of waterways assessed by the state do not meet water quality standards.
    • This is happening as a result of agriculture runoff, sewer plant, pet and animal waste, commercial and industrial waste, habitat degradation, erosion, poor yard and garden practices, etc.
    • Impermeable ground cover from rapid development exacerbates these problems and causes more runoff and waste to enter our rivers.
    • Tennessee and the greater Southeastern US is the 3rd most aquatic biodiverse region in the world. Tennessee is home to the Duck River, the most biodiverse river in North America.
    • What we hope for is that, through our work alongside the communities that inhabit middle Tennessee, we can protect rivers for current and future residents and wildlife.
    • Middle Tennessee will continue to grow—it is estimated to gain 1 million new residents over the next 10 years. Harpeth Conservancy is not opposed to all development and wants to accommodate those who come to appreciate this beautiful part of the country; however, we do want to ensure that development is planned and executed in a sustainable way by taking into consideration the long-term effects rather than focusing on short term gains whether financial or otherwise.
  • Some of our recent focus has been in the policy and science realm
    • We provided information to the Tennessee legislature regarding the proposed removal of zoning around filling quarries in Tennessee and worked with the community around this issue. This bill was filed to facilitate the fill of the McCrory Quarry near Bellevue but would have had statewide implications. The McCrory Quarry is connected to the State Scenic Harpeth River through groundwater and is less than 400 feet away from river itself. Any contamination of the quarry could easily lead to contamination of the Harpeth.  There were also additional considerations around community safety, traffic, and visitation of a nearby Veteran’s cemetery.
    • Another issue we worked on were the rezoning and development proposals on Brownland Farm in Franklin. The proposal involved dramatically changing 50% or more of the property that is in a natural floodplain to maximize development without improving any flooding hazards on Hillsboro Road. We provided expertise that explained the public safety risk from flooding in this uniquely challenging bend in the Harpeth that is surrounded by floodwaters. With this info and community members and leaders’ support, the rezoning proposal was unanimously rejected.
    • Our science director, Dr. Ryan Jackwood is currently developing a real-time water quality monitoring system to track and report coli levels in various sections of Richland Creek, Harpeth River, and Mill Creek. Essentially this will function as a “weather app” type platform that will forecast levels of E. coli for residents to assess how safe the water is to swim on a given day. This system will provide daily forecasts for E. coli at a variety of locations so the public can make informed decisions about where and when our rivers are safe for recreation, which will lower the health risk to residents.
  • How to get involved:
    • Harpeth Conservancy hosts frequent outreach and education events that are free, open to the public, and provide fun and educational activities related to river health and importance. Some of our previous events include guided hikes, fish and macroinvertebrate identification, sustainable gardening practices, and wildlife photography. One we want to highlight is our annual Family Fun Day in Franklin. The event will take place on Saturday, June 18 with two sessions from 11am-1pm and 1pm-3pm. Another event is our annual fundraiser party, River Swing, which will take place on September 17

Learn more:
Facebook:              https://www.facebook.com/HarpethRiver
Twitter:                  https://twitter.com/theharpethriver
Website:                 http://harpethconservancy.org/
LinkedIn:               https://www.linkedin.com/company/harpethconservancy/

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