Tennessee is a water rich state, there are thousands of miles of rivers and streams winding their way through our 95 counties. The state's waterways are the backbones of our communities; we fish, swim, and paddle these beautiful waterways. The rivers, lakes, and streams support vibrant ecosystems which species of wildlife need to thrive.
Water Quality in Tennessee
We used the impaired waterways list of the Tennessee Department of Conservation and Environment (TDEC) to inform our state of the environment report. TDEC puts together a list of the impaired rivers, lakes, and streams in Tennessee; the list is created in order to provide an overview of what water bodies need restoration or improvement. An impaired stream is defined as a waterway that is not currently meeting defined water quality standards. The health and water quality of a river, lake, or stream is determined by the health and quality of the land the surrounds a waterway. We can improve the health of our waters by protecting and improving the land around the waterways.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has estimated that about 30 percent of the state's streams are of such poor water quality that they cannot support a healthy population of fish and other aquatic wildlife, and almost 40 percent are not fit for human recreation. - University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension
The graphs above show the top four pollution causes and the top four pollution sources. Pollution from livestock grazing near waterways and pollution coming from large urban areas make up over 45% of all pollution in impaired streams. The data used in the graphs is derived from the 2020 TDEC Impaired Waters Report.
There are 66,600 farms spread across 10.8 million acres in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. These farms are a major contributor of sediment, nutrient, and pesticide pollution in surface waters. - Tennessee Clean Water Network
You can help protect Tennessee's waterways by volunteering for a local organization focused on watershed improvement and restoration. Organizations across the state are working to protect our water; it is easy to get involved! You can also start help protect our rivers, lakes, and streams by using a rain barrel or starting a rain garden. Check out the resources below to see how you can keep our waters clean and healthy.