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Releasing a River

Used for recreation, irrigation, and drinking water, the Harpeth River is a middle Tennessee workhorse. Draining nearly 900 square miles, it flows through one of the fastest growing regions in the country. All that development takes a toll. Removed trees on the river’s edge expose and weaken its banks. More roofs and pavement send rainwater rushing in, causing erosion. And pollution…coming in many forms from all those people…finds its way into the water. That’s why the river needs help, from all of us, to stay healthy.

One group working to do just that is the Harpeth River Watershed Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the river. Wild Side Guide Ken Tucker takes us to Franklin, where a key part of that restoration effort starts with the last remaining dam on the river.

Thanks to the removal of the dam, the Harpeth is now free-flowing, joining only a few other rivers in Tennessee that are not impounded. The TWRA will continue taking fish and mussel surveys for the project to document the improvements in the river’s ecological system and likelihood of potential mussel reintroduction in the reach in a few years with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Nathan Singer, the TWRA biologist heading up the sampling effort, says that so far they have seen increased numbers of fish, roughly 10 times more than before the restoration, and a significant increase in the diversity of fish, especially in the river tributaries. Nathan says that the removal of the dam has created some promising new habitat for the smallscale darter, a species of concern in the river. But since darters traditionally expand their range in small increments, it may be several years before they move that far upstream.

Fish aren’t the only ones loving the restored river..people are loving it too! The reshaped banks make it a lot easier to get canoes and kayaks in and out of the water. Long term plans for the area include the possibility of a marked path and staging area for paddlers.

While the project was headed up by the Harpeth River Watershed Association, there were many other organizations involved in the restoration. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation removed the dam, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership, and the National Fish Habitat Partnership contributed $350,000 to improve fish habitat, the City of Franklin contributed another $350,000, Vulcan Materials offered a 25% discount on materials, the “Dam Cam” (source of that cool time lapse) was paid for by Waste Management, and the restoration design was conceived by Beaver Creek Hydrology, an engineering firm based in Franklin. Other partners include TWRA, TDOT, North State Environmental and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Harpeth River restoration project was named one of the 51 great river projects in the nation by the Department of the Interior as part of America’s Great Outdoors Rivers Initiative. Click here to learn more.

From show 2511.

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