Programs / Sewage Treatment Plants

Just The Facts: Why Harpeth Conservancy Supports Legislation Requiring Municipal Wastewater Plants to Quantify and Limit Pollutants.

Harpeth Conservancy supports the legislation filed in the Tennessee General Assembly that will hold municipal wastewater treatment plants receiving loans from the state accountable for following mandates of State and Federal clean water laws and regulations.

On behalf of our members and supporters and the more than 500,000 citizens who annually enjoy the Harpeth River, we thank Representatives Bo Mitchell and John Ray Clemmons and Senator Jeff Yarbro for sponsoring HB 2614 /SB 2618.

Read Vice President and COO Jim Redwine’s comments on the bill here.

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Franklin Sewage Treatment Plant Issues Continue With Franklin's Request to Discharge Yet More Phosphorus Pollution

Franklin Sewage Treatment Plant Issues Continue With Franklin's Request to Discharge Yet More Phosphorus Pollution


Harpeth Conservancy is continuing our work to resolve the issues persistent in Franklin's sewage treatment plant expansion. "There are number of issues with that appeal, one being it allows too much phosphorous into a river already impaired," Harpeth Conservancy COO and vice president Jim Redwine said. "That’s unlawful. We’ve appealed the permit because it allows for double the amount of phosphorus. It also contradicts the agreement the city entered into with the lawsuit. 


In June 2017, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued the final permit for Franklin sewage treatment plant. The City of Franklin has now appealed its own permit, and states in its appeal that " phosphorus limit is necessary for Franklin." The City wants permission to put in more phosphorus than allowed by the final permit. Read the Tennessean Article


Franklin has now hired its lawyers for the permit appeal and "brought back" the same lawyers responsible for spending at least $300,000 on Franklin's recent unwarranted ) counterclaim again Harpeth Conservancy.


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Public Comments Due Nov. 21 on New State Discharge Permit for Franklin Sewer Plant Expansion

DRAFT STATE SEWER PLANT DISCHARGE PERMIT FOR FRANKLIN Needs Your Comments by Nov. 21, 2017, 4:30pm Central Time!

Send your comments to the State. Tell TDEC that state clean water rules do NOT allow Franklin to double the amount of phosphorus pollution going into the Harpeth River.  

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) recently held the public hearing on the agency's proposed changes to the state discharge permit for Franklin's expanded sewage treatment plant.   Because of phosphorus pollution, the State Scenic Harpeth River has been listed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) for over a decade for not meeting water quality standards set to protect public health and wildlife.  Franklin is investing $100 million in its new sewer plant that its engineering design states will be able to achieve low phosphorus levels.  Under well established state clean water regulations, increased discharges of the pollutant that is causing the water quality impairment is not authorized.  YET, FRANKLIN WANTS TO BE ABLE TO DISCHARGE INTO THE HARPETH RIVER OVER TWICE THE AMOUNT OF PHOSPHORUS IT IS CURRENTLY PUTTING INTO THE HARPETH.  Tell TDEC and your state public officials that the final sewer permit is required to at least “hold the line” on more pollution, and set a schedule for reducing pollution from Franklin's Sewer Plant to help improve the river.

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Federal Judge Approves Court-Enforceable Settlement of HRWA Lawsuit That Will Help Clean Up State Scenic Harpeth River

On August 9, 2016 Federal Judge Sharp of the US District Court in Nashville approved the settlement of the federal Clean Water Act citizen suit brought by HRWA against the City of Franklin, TN in August 2014.   The court-enforceable settlement is designed to bring Franklin into compliance with the terms of the state permit for the city’s sewage treatment plant.  Franklin’s sewer plant is the largest single source of permitted discharge of pollutants into the State Scenic Harpeth River. 

In 2015, American Rivers named the Harpeth River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers highlighting the threat sewage pollution and excessive water withdrawals pose to clean water and public health.   The river’s water quality is impaired from unacceptably high levels of pollutants that feed harmful algae growth that can cause dangerous conditions for wildlife and public health according to the TN Department of Environment and Conservation.

“Protecting the Harpeth from threats of increasing pollution like those that have contributed to toxic situations around the country – and internationally -- is central to HRWA’s mission,” said Matthew Dobson, Chairman of HRWA’s Board of Directors.  “This court-enforceable settlement, if faithfully implemented by Franklin, will improve the water quality of this very popular Tennessee State Scenic river resource flowing through Nashville and one of the fastest growing regions of our state and country.” 

See details below and in PDF of Press release

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Franklin Agrees to Steps to Limit Harpeth River Pollution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The city of Franklin has agreed to take steps to further limit pollution of the Harpeth River from its sewage treatment plant.

The settlement between Franklin and the Harpeth River Watershed Association was filed in federal court on Tuesday. It calls for Franklin to prioritize pollution controls as it expands its sewage plant. Franklin also will spend $10 million over five years on upgrading old sewer lines and other projects to protect the river. The money is part of its existing capital improvements budget, and the city says the settlement won't mean increased sewer rates.

Article as PDF

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City of Franklin, HRWA Reach Settlement Agreement over Harpeth River Lawsuit

May 10, 2016

Franklin— The City of Franklin and the conservation organization, Harpeth River Watershed Association (HRWA), have resolved their differences regarding the City’s operation of its Water Reclamation Facility, ending a 2014 federal Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by HRWA in which HRWA has been represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). The parties are moving forward and are participating in a comprehensive study focusing on the entire the Harpeth River watershed, the first such study in the State of Tennessee. This study, led by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), will involve other stakeholders associated with the Harpeth River and will assess the health of and the risks to the Harpeth River and its tributaries. The study will document and establish a plan to ensure activities and priorities in the Harpeth River watershed are accounted for so the river will meet water quality standards.

Franklin Home Page story (5-10-16, 10pm)

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Lengthy Harpeth River Battle may be settled out of court

Melanie Balakit's Column in Tennessean, Tuesday, Mar. 22, 2016

Link to recent press:  Tennessean on Judge Kevin Sharp's decision to side with HRWA in Franklin lawsuit.

"The Harpeth River Watershed Association and the city of Franklin will engage in 'meaningful settlement decisions,' according to a court document filed Monday."
"According to the lawsuit, Franklin's sewage treatment plant violated sewage discharge permits, allowing untreated waste to flow into the river. The permit violations also resulted in failure to properly monitor the condition of the water, the lawsuit states."
"The city argued that the association couldn't sue in federal court over alleged permit violations, an argument the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later rejected."
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Tennessean Columnist Champions HRWA's Efforts to Advocate for Clean Water and Healthy Rivers

Comments on city of Franklin's legal tactics against HRWA that were dismissed by federal judge Nov. 4

Frank  Daniels III column in Tennessean, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015

Link to recent press:  Associated Press, TennesseanFranklin Home Page on judge's dismissal.

Tennessean story on amount city has spent on legal fees as of mid-October.

"Some 'insults' should be embraced.  Like when government officials describe a citizen or citizen group as a 'gadfly.'  You can almost see the spittle accompanying the syllables as they try to demean constituents seeking more transparency and better government."
"Hurling the word is one thing, but it seems like City of Franklin officials went too far in their attempt to intimidate the advocacy group Harpeth River Watershed Association, as U.S. district Chief Judge Sharp noted when he dismissed the city's claim against the HRWA on Wednesday."
"We should embrace our 'gadflies,' whose willingness to challenge power and confront government officials is essential, especially in a period where TDEC has seemingly walked away from its responsibility to protect our environment." 
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Federal Judge Dismisses City of Franklin Lawsuit Against Harpeth River Watershed Association

Highlights:  November 4th in federal court during oral arguments, "a federal judge dismissed a countersuit by the city of Franklin against the Harpeth River Watershed Association" in which the city contended that "the group had abused the legal process and was trying to 'extort' the city." 
"US District Chief Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed the claim- which some experts had previously described as an overly aggressive legal tactic-adding that city representatives might have better spent their time hammering out some kind of settlement." 
"Should you (Franklin) be filing a counterclaim instead of everybody working for clean water?' he said."
"Before Franklin City attorney Shauna Billingsley launched into her argument ...Sharp asked whether the city could cite a Tennessee case in which a settlement proposal was an abuse of process....They could not...So Sharp issued his ruling from the bench."
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Press Examines Franklin's legal tactics against HRWA's efforts to protect water quality in the Harpeth

Highlights:   "Franklin has paid a Washington, D.C. based law firm almost $300,000 to help fight a federal lawsuit ...filed by ...the Harpeth River Watershed Association in August 2014, accus(ing) the city of violating a permit that allows it to pump treated wastewater into the protected waterway and failing to properly monitor the condition of the water."  

"Experts are also questioning the city's use of a legal tactic that they say is more aggressive than a typical defense....At issue is the city's move to countersue the association." 

 "'What they (the city of Franklin) want is to beat the (watershed association) into the ground," said Paul Levy, an attorney who specializes in free speech issues at Public Citizen...based in Washington, DC. ... 'I would say this is bullying.'"

Click here for Tennessean story


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EPA Supports State led collaboration on new and much needed Pollution Reduction Plan for the Entire Harpeth

Harpeth River to get a NEW pollution Reduction Plan according to EPA.  

A collaborative approach to be led by the state with HRWA, City of Franklin and others already committed as partners

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U.S. Department of Justice and EPA Back HRWA's Right to Bring Citizen Suit, Assert Importance of Permit Conditions to Clean Water Nationwide

The U.S. Department of Justice and the EPA filed a brief in federal district court backing HRWA’s right to bring a citizen suit against the City of Franklin’s sewage treatment plant.

Federal regulators wholly rejected arguments made by the City of Franklin that certain conditions of its permit are “beyond the scope” of the Clean Water Act and unenforceable by both citizen suits and federal prosecutors. 

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Settlements with Cartwright Creek and Harpeth Wastewater Cooperative Reached

Settlement with Cartwright Creek and Harpeth Wastewater Cooperative

Cartwright Creek (which serves River Rest) and Harpeth Wastewater Cooperative (which serves Cottonwood, Legends Ridge, and River Landing) have expressed strong interest in cooperating towards a healthy Harpeth River and have worked quickly to negotiate with HRWA concerning the permit violations detailed in HRWA’s Clean Water Act (CWA) 60 day notice sent in January 2014. Both utilities have filed settlement agreements in Federal district court, August 28, 2014.  CLICK HERE to see a summary the terms contained in the letters.

See Press Release, September 3, 2014

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HRWA Files Clean Water Act Lawsuit Against City of Franklin over Sewer Plant Permit Violations

Contact Mayor Moore and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA) or attend BOMA meetings on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month at 7 PM. Let Franklin know that the best Southern town deserves the best Southern river!

Get involved and help protect our river by e-mailing us at

Print Factsheet -- "Why Sue Franklin"  (Factsheet 2)

For more details see Protect Our River Campaign page for other factsheets!

Story in Tennessean.  See Press Release, August, 26, 2014.


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The City of Franklin, Berry's Chapel Utility, and Cartwright Creek LLC were each sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue on January 13, 2014 by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of HRWA detailing repeated violations of pollution limits. 


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The Harpeth River does not meet state Water Quality Standards in the summer.  Reduction in discharges from sewage treatment plants from the city of Franklin and two small facilities in Williamson County is needed in order to increase oxygen levels in the river.

HRWA is calling for a new pollution reduction plan to be done.  One important need is for a river-basin wide water quality monitoring program to provide key data.  HRWA has prepared examples and options for a collaborative effort under a Technical Advisory Committee.  Some aspects of this are in the new draft sewage treatment permits. HRWA has prepared a draft Harpeth river-basin comprehensive monitoring plan with input from various state and federal agencies and experts to jumpstart the work of the TAC.  This map shows the monitoring locations.

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2nd Sewer Plant Postponed

City aldermen voted unanimously, May 8, 2012, on a scaled down
first phase of needed projects.  
( Item 14 )

Projects include re-engineering the existing sewer plant to increase capacity, upgrading the existing drinking water plant, and other needed projects. These projects are 1A,1B,1D, 2, 4, & from the list in Item 14 that total about $32 million.

After a two year study city of Franklin consultants recently recommended a long-term sewer and drinking water plan that included a new second sewer plant just upstream of the city’s drinking water plant.  This plant had been proposed several years ago and was put on hold by former Mayor Scoer to develop a long-term integrated plan.  After recent discussions at Board of Mayor and Aldermen work sessions, the option of a second sewer plant has been postponed for the foreseeable future. This very sewer plant has already been designed a bid and was on the city agenda to approve in 2008 before being pulled off.   The consultant’s study also concluded that future sewer capacity can be handled with upgrades to the current sewer plant that will provide for growth for at least the next 15 years.   Further capacity can also be in the same location in the future versus having a sewer plant UPSTREAM of the city’s drinking water plant.  

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Proposed sewer and drinking water plans for Franklin:


At the beginning of 2012 City of Franklin consultants proposed a long-term plan to add a second Sewage Treatment Plant on the Harpeth River upstream of the city’s drinking water plant in addition to expanding the drinking water plant.  This is a key component of the plan that also includes increasing the capacity at the current sewer plant, which discharges into the Harpeth downstream of downtown Franklin (see map below).

Only a few large metropolitan areas in the United States use treated sewer wastewater as a source for drinking water.  These are all much larger in scale than what is proposed for Franklin and involve considerable dilution prior to reuse.  This intentional use of treated sewer effluent as a drinking water source is VERY RARE and poses potential serious health risks.

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Franklin explores re-use of treated sewage for drinking water

Currently the tools to fully assess the public health risk of this type of small-scale water reuse do not exist.

The 2012 National Academy of Science (NAS) report on Water Reuse concludes “A better understanding and a database of the performance of treatment processes and distribution systems are needed to quantify the uncertainty in risk assessments of potable [drinkable] and non-potable [non-drinkable] water reuse projects.” (NAS report, p159)


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