Tennessean: We can grow responsibly and protect vital natural resources like Lick Creek | Opinion (12/2/2022)

The Water Authority of Dickson County needs to scrap its plans to pollute Lick Creek, Hickman County and the Duck River watershed.

Mike Butler

Guest Columnist

  • Mike Butler is the CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation is dedicated to the conservation of our state’s wildlife and natural resources.

We are not opposed to growth, but we serve as the voice of reason and a statewide advocate for the conservation, sound management and wise use of our precious natural resources.

Across the state, but particularly in rapidly expanding Nashville, conserving those resources while still providing opportunities for economic growth becomes acute.

New and creative approaches are needed to ensure the health and abundance of our lands, waters, and wildlife.

Earlier this year, we worked with conservation partners at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and The Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to protect the Duck River, the most biodiverse river in North America, by upholding limits on the amount of water that a water utility district could withdraw.

Stakeholders must meet to solve water and wastewater treatment challenges

Currently, Hickman County, just west of Nashville, faces another threat to valuable water resources. The Water Authority of Dickson County (WADC) is seeking to build a new sewage disposal facility on Lick Creek in Hickman County.

Williamson County filmmakers Eyan and Ivon Wuchina produced a documentary about Lick Creek, a natural area in Hickman County, Tenn.

Lick Creek is designated as an “exceptional Tennessee water” by the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation. The proposed plant could discharge up to 12 million gallons a day, over 90% of which will come from neighboring Williamson and Dickson counties.

Both counties are rapidly growing alongside the expanding Nashville region, and it is incumbent upon the stakeholders engaged in the issue of Lick Creek to find a creative and more efficient approach to address our growing water supply and wastewater treatment challenges.

The Federation has numerous concerns about this project from specific issues surrounding the plant, to broader policy concerns:

  • State water law, and rules, require that applicants seeking to discharge into our public waters must show that the discharge will not degrade the receiving waters. At this time, we know of no analysis to verify this to be the case of Lick Creek and this proposed plant. If 12 million gallons a day of additional flow, that will include unregulated pollutants such as PFAS, does not degrade a pristine, exceptional water and fishing stream, then we are concerned that a precedent will be created that virtually no proposed discharge will be deemed to cause degradation; putting other rivers and streams across the state at risk.
  • Lick Creek is the largest tributary of the Duck River, the most biodiverse river in North America. If discharges from a new plant flow into the Duck, it will negatively impact an already threatened watershed. Allowing the WADC to have discharge flow to the Duck, by way of Lick Creek, adds another significant impact to a river that already is facing significant existing, and proposed new, water withdrawals.
  • Lick Creek is a treasured fishing and recreation stream for Hickman County residents and visitors. As middle Tennessee grows, the demand for water-based recreation is exploding. A new sewer plant of this magnitude, discharging up to 12 million gallons per day into Lick Creek will impact these uses.
  • The WADC has not been transparent with or listened to the concerns of Hickman County and its citizens. In fact, there is no Hickman County representation on their unelected board. Although the WADC had planned the construction of a new plant on Lick Creek for several years, they did not disclose their idea to the public. Instead, they posted a small sign with incomplete information about the project near a bridge along the highway. Fortunately, someone did notice the sign and started asking questions. The answers to date have been vague and the information now posted on their website is misleading.
  • The WADC stated that the water downstream of the outfall will be safe and clean, even suggesting you could drink it. This is nonsensical, and there are existing examples of wastewater discharges that appear to have led to degraded creeks.
  • The WADC failed to investigate alternative options to a new plant dumping discharge into Lick Creek. A 2020 engineering study showed that over 60% of the capacity of WADC’s existing plant is lost through leaks in the infrastructure. Why not fix what you have before building anew? They have also not seriously considered directing the outfall to the Cumberland River, a river with much more ability to handle the flow. Yes, it is further away from the service area, but they already have a water withdrawal line to the Cumberland.

Seek smarter regional solutions in cooperation with TDEC

We share the concerns of the residents who have come together to oppose the WADC project, protect Hickman County’s pristine waters and rural way of life.

Mike Butler

The WADC needs to scrap its plans to pollute Lick Creek, Hickman County and the Duck River watershed.

We call for the water utilities that currently use or seek to use the Duck River watershed for water supply and wastewater discharge to come together with TDEC and seek smarter regional solutions that can save taxpayer dollars and produce solutions that can ensure the health and abundance of our public rivers and streams.

Mike Butler is the CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, one of the oldest organizations dedicated to protecting Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources.

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