The main sources of nutrient impairments are over-fertilized agricultural lands, as well as urban lawns and gardens. Other sources include livestock, pet waste, municipal wastewater systems. Farmers apply nutrients in the form of chemical fertilizers, manure, and sludge. When fertilizers exceed plant needs, are left out in the open, or are applied just before it rains, nutrients can wash into our waterways over land or seep into groundwater.
Many backyard fertilizers for gardens or lawns contain nutrients. Just like in a rural setting, excess fertilizer that is not taken up by plants can seep into groundwater sources or be carried by stormwater over land to streams and rivers. Most dishwashing detergents are another source of nutrients that can be tracked back to the home. Finally, high concentrations of nutrients are also found in human and pet waste, which all too often contaminate our waters via leaking sewer lines or neglected pet waste.
These increased nutrient concentrations cause nuisance or toxic algae blooms in waterbodies. These blooms can ruin swimming and boating opportunities, create foul taste and odor in drinking water, and kill fish and aquatic life by removing oxygen from the water. High concentrations of nutrients must be filtered from our drinking water, since they can cause methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal disease in infants, also known as blue baby syndrome.
How You Can help
Are you a member of a group or organization in your community that would be interested in adopting this waterway? Contact the Cumberland River Compact if you’re interested in learning more about stream adoption.
Fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants can attach themselves to soil particles and find their way to your creek.
1) Soil Test to Determine Fertilizer Needs of Your Soil - University of Tennessee Soil, Plant, and Pest Center
2) How to Soil Sample a Lawn or Garden - UT Extension
3) Principles of Home Landscape Fertilization - UT Extension
4) Nutrient Outreach and Educational Materials - EPA
5) UT Municipal Technical Advisory Service provides a number of related educational resources including Lawn and Garden Fertilizers, Lawn Watering, and Managing Leaves and Yard Trimmings.
If you live or work next to a waterway, leave a 35′ to 100′ no mow zone on its banks. Allow natural and native plant growth in this buffer area or plant native trees, bushes, and groundcover. This vegetation can filter pollutants before they reach your waterway and provide other water quality benefits that far exceed those of a mowed lawn. Native plants and grasses require less watering and fertilizer and also provide important habitat for native species of wildlife.
1) Free trees for Tennesseans during TEC's annual statewide 100K Tree Day - TN Environmental Council
2) Purchase Native Wildflower/Grass Alternatives to Mowed Grass - Roundstone Native Seed and/or Seedland
3) Tennessee Aquatic Stream Clean Up and Riparian Tree Grant (Scroll to bottom of linked page for more info) - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
4) General Guidelines for Volunteer Based Riparian Buffer Plantings - TN Environmental Council
5) Improving Stream Channels With Live Staking - UT Extension
6) Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook - TN Dept. of Agriculture
7) Landscaping with Native Plants in West, Middle, and East TN - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
8) Native Plants for TN - UT Extension
9) Forest Stewardship Program and Landowner Services - KY Division of Forestry
10) Plant Availability Guide - KY Department of Agriculture
11) State Nurseries and Tree Seedlings - KY Division of Forestry
Rain gardens can filter and infiltrate stormwater that flows across your yard.
1) Rain Gardens - A Resource Guide - Cumberland River Compact and Metro Nashville
2) TN Native Rain Garden Plants - UT Extension
3) Rain Gardens for Tennessee - UT Extension
4) Rain Gardens Educator's Toolkit, Rain Gardens for Tennessee Site Summary, and Rain Garden Facts and Tips - UT Extension
5) Rain Garden How-to Brochure - Harpeth River Watershed Association
6) Rain Garden Guide for Middle Tennesseans by Patty Ghertner
7) Start-to-Finish Rain Garden Workbook - Harpeth River Watershed Association
8) Rain Garden Workshop Guide - TN Environmental Council
9) Landscaping with Native Plants in West, Middle, and East TN - TN Wildlife Resources Agency
10) Native Plants for TN - UT Extension
11) Plant Availability Guide - KY Department of Agriculture
Excluding farm animals from this waterway and providing them with alternative sources of water can prevent animals from trampling streamside vegetation and defecating in the waterway.
1) Natural Resources Conservation Service offers a number of programs that can provide technical or financial assistance to landowners interested in employing agricultural best management practices. Potential programs may include: the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Conservation Technical Assistance Program, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
2) Agricultural Resources Conservation Fund - TN Department of Agriculture
3) Water Quality Best Management Practices Calendar - UT Extension
4) Habitat How-To's provides information for adopting common habitat management practices when developing an overall farm plan - KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
5) Equipment Loans - KY Division of Conservation
6) State Cost Share Program - KY Division of Conservation
7) Beneficial Conservation Practices for Farmers - Harpeth River Watershed Association
Water related infrastructure is expensive and obtaining funding for necessary sewer and water treatment improvements is often a challenge for communities. However, public dollars are critical to our water quality and public health. Support your community's efforts to properly maintain it's water related infrastructure.
1) America's Infrastructure Report Card - American Society of Civil Engineers
2) How Sewage Pollution Ends Up in Rivers - American Rivers
3) Greening Water Infrastructure - American Rivers
If you have an antiquated or unneeded dam on your property, contact the Cumberland River Compact to discuss the feasibility of removing it. Walk the stream and inventory the location of any dams or obstructions, and let the Compact know so we can add these to our database or potential removal projects.
1) Dam Inventory, Removal and Stream Restoration - Cumberland River Compact
2) How Dams Damage Rivers and How Dams are Removed - American Rivers
Participate in community planning efforts and advocate for relevant measures that improve or protect water quality. Write to your elected official and let them know this is concern or invite them to speak about the impairment with your home-owners association. When elections come up, vote for candidates who will address the problem and hold them accountable to their promises. Support local watershed / environmental associations.
1) Advocacy Toolkit - TN Environmental Council
2) Find Your Legislators - Federal Legislators; State Legislators (KY/TN); Local Legislators (KY/TN)
Do your neighbors, family, or roommates know about the problem? Now that you know how to be an effective steward, enlist the help of others in your neighborhood. Share iCreek or resources within it with your neighbors and encourage them to join the effort to protect your creek.