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Sulfates are compounds containing sulfur that cycle throughout the environment as part of natural biogeochemical cycles, which means they can enter aquatic ecosystems naturally. Methods of entry into freshwater ecosystems include saltwater intrusion, sea spray, and sea level rise. However, the majority of sulfates originate from surface runoff and air pollution, which is deposited into rivers through acid raid. Sulfates are often used in fertilizer, so pollution near these areas is the worst.

Sulfur compounds can have many detrimental effects on freshwater ecosystems. For instance, they promote the conversion of mercury into its most toxic form, methylmercury, and stimulate sediments to release nutrients, causing eutrophication. Some of the compounds themselves are also toxic to organisms within freshwater environments.


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  • Reduce paved, impervious surfaces
  • Limit Fertilizer

    Fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants can attach themselves to soil particles and find their way to your creek.

    Resources include:

    • Soil Test to Determine Fertilizer Needs of Your Soil – University of Tennessee Soil, Plant, and Pest Center
    • How to Soil Sample a Lawn or Garden – UT Extension
    • Principles of Home Landscape Fertilization – UT Extension
    • Nutrient Outreach and Educational Materials – EPA
    • 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.
  • Allow for natural growth near waterways

    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.

    Resources include:

    • Free trees for Tennesseans during TEC’s annual statewide 100K Tree Day – TN Environmental Council
    • Purchase Native Wildflower/Grass Alternatives to Mowed Grass – Roundstone Native Seed and/or Seedland
    • Tennessee Aquatic Stream Clean Up and Riparian Tree Grant (Scroll to bottom of linked page for more info) – TN Wildlife Resources Agency
    • General Guidelines for Volunteer Based Riparian Buffer Plantings – TN Environmental Council
    • Improving Stream Channels With Live Staking – UT Extension
    • Tennessee Urban Riparian Buffer Handbook – TN Dept. of Agriculture
    • Landscaping with Native Plants in West, Middle, and East TN – TN Wildlife Resources Agency
    • Native Plants for TN – UT Extension
    • Forest Stewardship Program and Landowner Services – KY Division of Forestry
    • Plant Availability Guide – KY Department of Agriculture
    • State Nurseries and Tree Seedlings – KY Division of Forestry
  • Adopt

    Are you a member of a group or organization in your community that would be interested in adopting this waterway? Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about stream adoption.

    Learn more about adopting a stream