The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME) announced that they have extended a collaborative effort to protect and restore the Clinch and Powell rivers in Virginia and Tennessee. These rivers contain some of the most diverse aquatic life in North America - including 20 federally endangered freshwater mussel species.
“The health of the Clinch River is essential to the people and economy of Tennessee,” said EPA Southeast Administrator Trey Glenn. “We anticipate this cooperative commitment will lead to a more vibrant and healthy river to ensure the area’s way of life is protected.”
“The ecological diversity of the Clinch and Powell rivers is a valuable resource that’s worth protecting. EPA is proud to play a role in this partnership that exemplifies federal, state and non-governmental stakeholders working together to accomplish common objectives” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio.
“Clean water is crucial to protecting the sensitive and important biological resources in this watershed. We look forward to our continued collaboration and expect our bi-state effort will identify clear solutions to alleviate water quality stressors and make more progress together to reduce nonpoint source pollution,” said Virginia DEQ Director David K. Paylor.
“DMME is keenly aware of the interaction between the watershed and mining,” said Virginia DMME Director John Warren. “Watershed health is an agency priority and we truly appreciate the benefits of our Clinch-Powell collaboration. Stream and watershed restoration successes are the result of a dedicated water quality team that includes our partners in the Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative.”
“TDEC values partnerships like the Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative to protect and restore these nationally and ecologically significant waterways,” said TDEC Commissioner Dr. Shari Meghreblian. “Collaborative and forward-thinking efforts like this are essential in protecting Tennessee’s precious water resources and the communities that thrive on them.”
“Our collective scientific investigations since 2008 show that habitat conditions in the rivers are fairly good, but that rare freshwater mussels are under chronic stress from relatively low-concentrations of metals and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons,” said The Nature Conservancy Scientist and Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative Science Team Chair Braven Beaty. “Understanding the specific sources of these contaminants and developing remediation strategies to improve water quality are a key priority as we move forward.”
By extending the 2008 Memorandum of Understanding, the agencies responsible for administering the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and corresponding state laws in Tennessee and Virginia have agreed to partner in the Clinch-Powell Clean Rivers Initiative (CPCRI), over the next 10 years to accelerate restoration efforts in the watershed.
The Clinch and Powell rivers originate in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Virginia and flow into Tennessee. One of the last free-flowing headwaters of the Tennessee River system, and containing a globally important collection of rare fish and mussels, the Clinch-Powell watershed is considered among North America’s most important biodiversity hotspots.
Since signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2008, the agencies have been working together and with other partners, through the CPRI to increase their focus and coordination on protecting these nationally significant waterways. CPCRI is a collaborative river restoration effort, facilitated by The Nature Conservancy, and comprised of federal and state agencies, universities, industry partners, and non-profit conservation organizations.
Using cutting-edge river monitoring techniques, the agencies and other partners involved in the CPCRI have been conducting scientific investigations to better understand the causes of this downward trend in mussel populations. They also have made significant co-investments in biological assessments and water quality studies.
Collaborative work to accelerate restoration efforts in the watershed includes working with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help cooperating farmers implement Best Management Practices, using the Abandoned Mined Land Fund to restore lands and waters impacted by coal mining, partnerships with localities to reduce stormwater run-off and improving wastewater management. These actions are reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and toxic pollution going to the rivers.
The creation of a new Clinch River State Park and Water Trail in Virginia, the establishment of a Powell River Blueway in Tennessee, and a general increase in public use of the rivers for swimming, fishing, canoeing, and other activities all point to the need for continued improvements in both water quality and rare species populations.