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Our Water. Our Future.

December 4, 2019
Photo courtesy of Chuck Sutherland, Cane Creek Falls

Meet the Cumberland River Compact. Our mission is to enhance the health and enjoyment of the Cumberland River and its tributaries.

We are 60% water

The human body is 60% water. Babies are born at about 75% water. For anyone that lives in the 18,000 square mile reaches of the Cumberland River Basin, you ARE the Cumberland River.

This small fact holds such significance when we see the issues our lands and waters are facing in the midst of climate change, urbanization, loss of green spaces and trees, and degradation of the land that impacts the health of our waterways.

Like the veins that run through our bodies, delivering oxygen and nutrients, rivers and streams act as the blood vessels of the land, constantly cycling, moving, and supplying people and critters alike with the bounty of clean water. And it’s our job to take care of it.

1997-The birth of The Compact

Inspired by Vic Scoggins in 1997 a group of Nashvillians, now known as the founders of the Cumberland River Compact, came together around a common issue: the state of the Cumberland River. During that time, the river was not swimmable or fishable, and you did not see the recreation on the river that you do today.

To prove just how bad the state of the Cumberland River had become, Vic Scoggins swam the 687-mile entirety of the Cumberland River from Harlan Kentucky, to its confluence with the Ohio River. Braving the waters littered with trash and raw sewage, Scoggins was determined to draw attention to the state of the river.

“The most ironic thing was all the refrigerators floating in the River. People didn’t know what to do with them so they dumped them in the river. I saw over 200 floating tires, I didn’t count all the cars, there were so many cars on the river banks.”

And how far we’ve come since then.

Addressing root causes of pollution

Over the last 20 years, the Cumberland River has grown to be a treasure of the region once again, thanks to the hard work of many stakeholders including the Cumberland River Compact, other non-governmental organizations, farmers, outdoor recreationists, concerned city dwellers, conscientious corporations and dedicated government employees.

Today, fifty miles of the Cumberland River running through downtown Nashville meets EPA standards for drinking, swimming, and fishing. While aging infrastructure and intense rain events cause occasional concerns, this is a great victory from 20 years ago.

But indeed, there is much work to be done.

All programs of the Cumberland River Compact work to address the root causes of water pollution. Most often the root causes that impact the health of a stream are integrally related to how we develop, and farmland.

We use the latest stream quality data from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, packaged into a neat little tool developed by the Compact and the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee called iCreek, to identify impaired waters. With data about what a waterway is impaired for, we can work to implement our programs based on the common sources of those impairments.

 Top impairments in the basin:

  • Sediment: Yup — “dirt”. Sediment is the most common impairment in the basin, commonly resulting from erosion from construction sites or agricultural fields, resulting in smothered aquatic life and other issues.
  • Nutrients: The overuse of fertilizer, high concentrations of pet waste and municipal water systems are some of the common causes of Nutrient impairments. An excess of nutrients in a waterway can deplete oxygen, causing algal blooms and killing aquatic life.
  • Pathogens: Pathogens can enter waterways by way of sewer overflows, leaking sewer lines, and polluted stormwater that washes bacteria from undisposed pet waste into the nearest stream. In rural and agricultural areas, waste management on farms and leaky septic systems are a common culprit of pathogen impairment. Pathogens in the water can cause illness or disease.

Read More about Problems and Solutions

Stronger, together

Our staff and board believe in the work we do because we can see the difference in streams that are allowed to function the way nature intended, and that many of the problems streams face are man-made, and therefore we have the power to rectify them.

Responsible land use is key to protecting and restoring clean water. EVERYTHING we do on the land impacts the waters around it. From skyscrapers to soybeans, there are many things we can do to reduce our impact on the land.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the complexity and severity of environmental issues today. The good news is that there are some really basic things that everyone can do to have a big impact over time (to come in a future post). After all, nonpoint source pollution (the pollution that comes from many different sources) is the result of a lot of people doing the wrong things. What if a lot of people were doing the right things?

We are stronger together and when we prioritize a healthy community, we see results.

The Compact focuses on building strong partnerships with state, federal, and local agencies to take proactive and innovative approaches to today’s water quality issues. Our partnerships allow us to get more work on the ground, with more voices involved. Check out the projects we’ve accomplished with our partners.

What you’ll get from our blog

Our blog will dive into the issues, history, at-home tips, trips you can take in the basin, innovative approaches to water quality issues, arts, and more in the Cumberland River Basin.

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