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Protecting Tennessee's Globally Unique Rivers

Harpeth Conservancy's advocacy is ensuring biodiverse habitat and clean drinking water for today and generations to come.

There’s much to love about Tennessee including our incredible river ecosystems. The river systems of the Southeast are among the most biodiverse in the world, behind only the Amazon River in South America and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. These rivers are not only a source of pride but a lifeline for all who call Tennessee home, providing clean drinking water and safe recreational opportunities. Protecting these waterways and the habitats they support is critical to ensuring a viable and vibrant future for all Tennesseans.

The rivers of Tennessee, including the State Scenic Harpeth River that flows through Bellevue, teem with life. The Duck River is North America’s most biologically diverse freshwater river, containing more species of fish than all the rivers of Europe combined. It also supports 60 freshwater mussel species and 22 species of aquatic snails, many of which are federally listed as threatened or endangered. Even the smaller streams in our state contain endangered species that exist nowhere else on earth, like the Nashville crayfish, that makes its home in Southeast Nashville’s Mill Creek.

The ecosystems that flourish along the riverbanks provide nesting grounds, feeding areas, and shelter for a variety of species, including native pollinators and birds, contributing to the tapestry of life that defines Tennessee's natural heritage.

If mussels and snails aren’t your thing, the economic impact of Tennessee’s incredible rivers can help frame their value. Recreational fishing across our state supports almost 8,000 jobs and generates over $60 million in revenue. Rivers are the primary feature of many Tennessee National Parks, which bring $2.11 billion to the state economy through tourism.

Beyond their ecological and economic significance, over 60 percent of Tennesseans rely on the state’s rivers as a source of clean and safe drinking water.

To restore and protect Tennessee's rivers and the biodiversity they support, concerted efforts are necessary. Partnerships and coalitions between local, state, and federal agencies, nonprofits like Harpeth Conservancy, and mobilized local communities, are helping to ensure that Tennessee's rivers remain vibrant for generations to come. Together, we are collaborating and building consensus for solutions that will ensure the future of clean water through responsible policy, sound science, and strong community engagement.

“Your voice matters,” says Grace Stranch, CEO of Harpeth Conservancy. “Volunteering for river cleanup events, participating in citizen science projects like our Citizen Water Quality Monitoring program, and advocating for responsible development and policy in urban and rural areas are all ways in which local communities can contribute to the protection of Tennessee rivers.”

Simply put, the rivers of Tennessee are a source of awe-inspiring aquatic biodiversity, provide clean drinking water and recreational opportunities, and contribute to thriving ecosystems for critters of all shapes and sizes. We are not only stewards of these invaluable resources but also beneficiaries of their gifts. By recognizing the importance of these waterways and actively participating in their protection, we can ensure that Tennessee's rivers continue to flourish, benefiting both the environment and the well-being of its people for generations to come.

HarpethConservancy.org

The Harpeth Conservancy, formerly known as the Harpeth River Watershed Association, in middle Tennessee, is a science-based conservation organization dedicated to clean water and healthy ecosystems for rivers in Tennessee. 

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