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Free-flowing Harpeth wins statewide award

Thomas Scruggs, who was a star wrestler for Franklin High in the early 1970s, has fished along the banks of the Harpeth since he was a child. Photo by Skip Anderson.

The Harpeth River, gently rolling through the city of Franklin, sparkles a little brighter, more species of fish jump a bit higher and extracting drinking water is a bit easier.

The city of Franklin was awarded a 2013 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award in the category of “Excellence in Natural Heritage” for their work on the Harpeth River Restoration Project that restored the river to its natural state – a free-flowing river.

“This is a significant honor,” City Administrator Eric Stuckey, said. “This is a very competitive award. We wanted to be good stewards of the river by providing reliable drinking water as well as a recreational and environmental resource.” The city of Franklin, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), and Harpeth River Watershed Association partnered for the project as well as other federal, state and private organizations.

TDEC removed a 50-year old manmade dam in July 2012 at the main stem of the Harpeth along Lewisburg Pike in Franklin that previously blocked the river’s flow to collect water to be treated for drinking. The demolition restored the river as a free-flowing water source.

“There’s nothing wrong with dams, which are found in many rivers, but they do restrict the natural flow of water,” said Dorie Bolze, executive director of Harpeth River Watershed Association. “Natural pools provide a safer design and mimic natural water flow. The natural flow of the river also works to stabilize erosion on riverbanks.”

“The dam needed to be removed to provide a free-flowing river to serve the environment, recreation and especially water for our growing community,” Stuckey said.

In place of a dam, a deep natural pool now resides in the river that allows water to be extracted, while not restricting its flow. Due to the city’s collaborative efforts to remove the dam and restore the river, a more ecologically friendly environment has been established, while also making drinking water easily accessible.

The river is now one of Tennessee’s few free-flowing rivers, providing a healthier habitat for wildlife, a safer waterway for recreation and source for drinking water.

Thomas Scruggs, a 58-year-old lifelong resident of Franklin who has fished the waters of the Harpeth since he was a child, said he demolition of the dam also enhances the natural beauty of the river.

“But I do miss the sound of the water,” Scruggs said, casting his line along the far bank of the river. “Although the waterfall [created by the dam] may have aerated the pool just a little more, which helped support the fish that live in there.”

Scruggs, wearing knee-high waterproof boots, had two trout in his catch bucket.

“These are good eating,” he said.

There is little evidence that a dam ever existed along this stretch of the river, aside from a rock embankment that looks a bit out of place along the shoreline.

“They did a good job,” Scruggs said.

The Plan
A few years ago when the city renewed its five-year permit for drinking water, the state suggested that the city look into more modern, sustainable ways to withdraw water from the river. The city soon got to work on the project to nurture a healthier waterway. The approximately $850,000 project – funded by the city as well as grants – met completion in about two years.

“Taxpayer money was put to good use,” Bolze said. “Every use of the river has been ecologically restored, including drinking water, wildlife and recreation, so it’s a win-win for all.”

“It improves the public’s access to the river and retains our ability to draw and treat water,” Stuckey said. “The impoundment of the river hampers the flow of the river, affecting the habitat. In the long term, we will have a healthier river.”

A reservoir near Carriage Park Road along Lewisburg Pike holds about 114 million gallons of water extracted from the river’s natural pool, which is then treated at a nearby water plant, ultimately satisfying about a third of the city’s water needs. The Harpeth Valley Utility District also provides water withdrawn from the Cumberland River for the city.

The restoration of the Harpeth improves fish habitat by attracting more species [up to 50] of fish, while improving fish passage through the waters.

“It creates biodiversity,” Bolze said.

“The project also reminds us that if you put your mind to something, and collaborate, you can accomplish your goal, which shows that it can be done. It spreads,” Bolze said.

The Great American Outdoors Rivers Initiative selected the removal of the dam as Tennessee’s No. 1 example to illustrate the restoration of a river’s natural flow and improved ecology while still allowing for drinking water withdrawals.

“It’s an educational opportunity to be ecologically responsible as well as healthy and purposeful,” Bolze said.

Skip Anderson contributed to this story.

Posted on: 6/11/2013


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