Programs / Franklin Drinking Water Issue


HRWA Analysis 6 years of Franklin's Water Withdrawals Confirmed by TDEC


On December 11, the TN Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a revision to its mid-November Commissioner’s Determination letter stating that it was in error and that the analysis provided by the Harpeth River Watershed Association (HRWA) was correctly based on the City of Franklin’s own data of daily amounts of water withdrawn from the Harpeth River. 

Get press release.

See Tennessean/Williamson Am story, Dec. 31, 2014

See below for documents or contact HRWA for more details.

HRWA is encouraged that TDEC recognized that HRWA’s six-year analysis provided important insight on the need to accurately measure the Harpeth River’s flow at the withdrawal point so that the City of Franklin can be confident they are operating in accordance with the permitted water withdraw limits.  

HRWA is also encouraged that with this communication TDEC also states that it will schedule a meeting with the City of Franklin, HRWA and the Southern Environmental Law Center to “clearly define the method for determining and reporting compliance with the permit limits.”  HRWA is looking forward to helping develop interim solutions for the City to implement so they can more accurately measure the river’s flow while the new state permit is under development.

“This is a very simple but important issue.  The City and the State need to know how much water is in the Harpeth at the point where the City withdraws … Period.” states Matt Dobson, President of HRWA’s Board of Directors.

“The current situation is like relying on a broken speedometer in your car and not fixing it so you can’t be accused of knowing that you’re speeding, when in fact you are,” explained Kevin Bonin, HRWA’s Environmental Policy Analyst and Regulatory Attorney.

TDEC’s revised letter also states that “TDEC found far fewer instances of non-compliance,” and that “Franklin was in substantial compliance with its permit limits for the months TDEC evaluated.”  However, TDEC evaluated only four months of “pumpage data” for their determination while HRWA analyzed six years of the City’s data going back to when the permit was issued and found problems each year during low river flows. 

 “Public participation is an essential part of government decision making and enables important expert review and citizens’ concerns to be incorporated into policy decisions.  HRWA’s recent efforts highlight its important role in providing analysis and fostering collaboration with decision makers to find effective and practical science-based solutions.” explains Dorene Bolze, Executive Director.


In August, HRWA filed a formal “section 118(a) complaint” with TDEC that, among other things, pointed out that the City of Franklin does not base its water withdrawal operations on an accurate measure of the river’s flow at the location of the withdrawal intake pump on the Harpeth, as specified by the state ARAP permit.  HRWA’s analysis was based on the City’s own records of water withdrawals and other responses to HRWA’s “TN Open Records Act” requests, as well as information the City has provided to TDEC over the years.  HRWA’s concerns about the City’s ability to actually demonstrate compliance stems from the City’s reliance on downstream river flow data from a US Geological Survey (USGS) stream gage located at the Highway 96 bridge near Pinkerton Park.  The City’s information shows that they make no adjustment for the stream gage’s location or for input from tributaries that join the Harpeth in between the City’s pumps and the stream gage.  This was a specific issue that TDEC stated that the City needed to address when TDEC issued the ARAP permit in 2007.

In addition, the City and other agencies have been well aware that the real-time river flow readings at the stream gage are preliminary and frequently get adjusted, mostly downward, during the USGS standard quality assurance review.  These adjustments are due to the fact that the river conditions change frequently at the site.  Furthermore, based on the City’s own information, the City does not use any correction factor with the real-time flow readings. The preliminary readings have been shown to overestimate the amount of water in the Harpeth River during low flows. The difference can be significant and typically ranges from and error of 10% to 20%, though sometimes much higher.  This translates to readings that show anywhere from 335,000 to 2.5 million gallons a day of water that is not actually in the river, according to City and USGS published data. 

HRWA’s analysis spanned 6 years from December 2007 through January 2014.  TDEC’s review was limited to four months in 2012 and 2013.   TDEC analysis of the 4 months did not account for overestimates in the river flows from the preliminary river gage readings.  HRWA provided a supplemental analysis based on the actual river flows and found nearly 9 times more (114 versus 874).    The difference is over 8 times and demonstrates the need to use an adjustment factor while the City continues to rely on the downstream highway 96 gage until other efforts are put in place that can improve the accuracy.  

Each year from 2008-2013 during low flow periods in the summer and fall, City withdrawals did not comply 10%-55% of the time when the river flow was below 15 cfs.  (The permit prohibits withdrawals to pull the river’s flow below 10cfs).  During these 6 years, of the 36 months that encompass the summer and fall low flow season, the City withdrawals did not meet the permit conditions for 24 months.    

In 2013 TDEC issued a new ARAP permit that focused on the problems with the City’s method of measuring the river’s flow by specifying that stream flow shall be measured to represent the river’s instantaneous flow “as background, pre-withdrawal flow at the point of withdrawal.”  This and other aspects of the new ARAP permit that clarified measuring and reporting to demonstrate compliance were appealed by the City in the fall of 2013.  TDEC rescinded that permit for other reasons and is currently working on a new ARAP permit “that is grounded in science and clearly defines the method for determining and reporting compliance with the permit limits,” as stated in the December 11 revised Determination letter to HRWA and the City.

The Harpeth River as it flows through downtown Franklin has been determined by the state to be impaired for fish and aquatic life.  In November, 2007, TDEC further determined that the City of Franklin’s water withdrawals for its drinking water plant cause degradation of the Harpeth and issued the City its first permit.  The state permit stipulates that the City cannot withdraw the river flow down below 10 cubic feet per second (cfs) nor withdrawal more than 20% of the river’s flow above the cutoff.

Documents for HRWA's Analysis of Franklin's Water Withdrawals:

December 22, 2014 HRWA press release

HRWA Analysis of Franklin's Water Withdrawals and Complaint filed with TDEC in August 2014 (118a complaint): 

This complaint has number attachments.  Contact HRWA ( for the attachments.

TDEC's December 11, 2014 Revised Letter to HRWA of its Commissioner's Determination to HRWA's 118a complaint.