The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Water (41)

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Image of historic Elza Entrance signage

Potential water runoff issues stall future Oak Ridge landfill construction

OAK RIDGE — A landfill intended to hold potentially toxic debris from the demolition of legacy Oak Ridge research facilities is moving forward but construction won’t start until it is definitively determined whether the site could pollute ground and surface water.

As reported previously by Hellbenderpress, environmentalists fear toxins leaking out of the proposed landfill could contaminate waterways and make their way into fish that people might catch downstream. The landfill’s contractor, however, said leaving buildings full of toxic residue standing may be more dangerous for workers and nearby residents and the landfill will help get the buildings quickly demolished. The contractor is doing a mock-up study this year to see how best to handle water issues on the future landfill site.

This summer, the contractor United Cleanup Oak Ridge LLC will choose a subcontractor and do field work. Ben Williams, the Department of Energy’s public affairs specialist, said roads and utilities will need to move to get the site ready at that time. But UCOR stated it won’t build the landfill until after a water study spanning “two wet seasons,” beginning later this year. 

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

TVA’s Bull Run Fossil Plant — then and nowBull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee, was originally commissioned 55 years ago but TVA is now soliciting public input on the best way to shut down operations. Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA solicits public input following release of environmental assessment for Bull Run Fossil Plant decommission

CLAXTON — Tennessee Valley Authority plans to close its Bull Run Fossil Plant (BRF) in Anderson County, but it’s still looking for public input on what comes next.

“As a large, inflexible coal unit with medium operating costs and a high forced outage rate, BRF does not fit current and likely future portfolio needs,” the federal utility said in a draft Environmental Assessment.

TVA is looking at three different options for the future of the structures still standing on the site by the Clinch River near Oak Ridge: taking down all structures; taking down some of them; or leaving everything standing. A recent report lays out the environmental consequences of each of these actions. The report, in draft form, is against that third choice, listing it as only an option for the sake of comparison.

“If the facility is left in the “as-is” condition, it likely would present a higher risk than Alternatives A or B for the potential to contaminate soil and groundwater as systems and structures degrade. As such, this alternative is not a reasonable alternative,” the draft states.

TVA stated its considering removing “all or most of the buildings and structures” on a 250-acre area. After closing the plant, but before any demolitions, TVA will begin by removing components that may be used at other TVA sites, draining of oil and fluids from equipment, taking ash out of the boilers, removing information technology assets, removing plant records and other tasks.

The Bull Run Environmental Assessment is 170 pages long and available for public review. It doesn’t directly tackle the coal ash storage conundrum that has grabbed the attention of politicians, nearby residents and environmental activists, because that issue involves separate regulations. 

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

bull run 107 hero0196f525 b2ce 46c9 88ad 0f2337a86726

CLAXTON  Even though TVA is about to retire Bull Run Fossil Plant, water pollution issues related to it are still up for debate.

A water discharge permit hearing took place Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation building, 761 Emory Valley Road in Oak Ridge. 

If you missed the meeting, you can still provide comments by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. through Thursday, Jan. 26

The permit would, if approved, allow releases of “cooling water, process wastewater and storm water runoff” from Bull Run Fossil Plant into the Clinch River and operation of a cooling water intake system. Environmental groups have concerns. 

Tennessee Valley Authority plans to retire Bull Run Fossil plant by 2023. Over several years and at meetings, both connected to TVA and organized by activist groups, citizens have voiced concerns about water quality issues due to the continued coal ash waste TVA stores on the site. In advance of this meeting, representatives of the Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Statewide Coalition for Community eMpowerment and Center for Biological Diversity all signed a letter asking for TDEC to set standards for water pollution from coal ash based on available technology.

This story will be updated.

Updated: Smokies crews recover drowned Knoxville kayaker

TOWNSEND — Smokies recovery teams on Monday found the body of Carl Keaney, 61, of Knoxville, in the Little River.

Keaney was last seen kayaking the Sinks during high flow when he vanished under water, prompting calls to Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers who, along with other local crews, proceeded to search for his body for three days.

Here’s the previous Hellbender Press report:

Teams are searching for a missing kayaker in what Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are now calling a “recovery operation” after a 61-year-old man disappeared underwater while boating above the Sinks on Little River. High water levels from recent heavy rains are making search and recovery difficult.

“Around 3:40 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16 Great Smoky Mountains National Park dispatch received a call that a 61-year-old man had disappeared underwater while kayaking above The Sinks and did not resurface,” according to a news release from the park. 

“Park rangers, along with emergency personnel from Townsend Fire Department and Blount Special Operations Response Team are on scene searching for the kayaker. High water level from recent rain is complicating recovery efforts. Little River Road from Metcalf Bottoms to the Townsend Wye is closed to accommodate emergency traffic.”

No more information is immediately available. This story will be updated.

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Silver anchor and thin fishing line tied to a branch for an underwater trotlineSilver weight and thin fishing line tied to a branch for an underwater trotline.  Getty Images via Tennessee Lookout

Traditional Tennessee trot lines pose a fatal collision with river recreation

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

NASHVILLE Brandon Archer was canoeing down the Buffalo River with friends over Labor Day weekend three years ago when he jumped out for a swim and drowned.

Archer had become entangled in a trotline, an unmanned fishing line studded with hooks that stretched across the river. The MTSU football player died a day shy of his 22nd birthday.

“When they found him he was under 10 feet of water and they found trotline wrapped around his ankle,” Courtney Archer, Brandon’s mother, told members of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission this month. “When I saw my son I remember the marks in his ankle from the trotline that was there.”

Rate this item
(3 votes)

TVA‘s Cumberland power plantThe Tennessee Valley Authority’s Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, Tennessee is leaking boron at 22 times safe levels, as well as unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt, lithium and molybdenum, according to a recent report prepared by environmental groups using TVA’s own data. Tennessee Valley Authority

Report: TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis ranks No. 10 in most contaminated U.S. sites

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash dumps in Memphis rank among the worst in the nation for contamination of groundwater with cancer-causing toxins, according to a new report that relied on the power provider’s own records.

TVA’s coal ash dumps at the now-defunct Allen Fossil Plant rank as the 10th worst contaminated sites in the country in a report released earlier this month that examined groundwater monitoring data from coal-fired plant operators, including TVA.

TVA’s own monitoring data shows its Memphis dumps are leaking arsenic at levels nearly 300 times safe drinking water limits. Unsafe levels of boron, lead and molybdenum are also being recorded there.

The report, prepared and published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice, shows that coal ash dumps at every TVA coal-fired facility across Tennessee are leaking dangerous contaminants at unsafe levels, including arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybedenum, boron, lead and sulfate, into groundwater.

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

313389018 6003984879614115 2260947738162227737 nBo Baxter (right) and JR Shute examine one of many tanks hosting native fish species at Conservation Fisheries in this photo taken last year. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

JR Shute and Pat Rakes declare semi-retirement, hand over operations to Hellbender Press board member

KNOXVILLE — A career biologist with deep experience in Southern Appalachian aquatic systems is the new captain of Conservation Fisheries.

The highly productive and robust nonprofit aims to secure, augment, preserve and protect the aquatic environs of the Southeast, namely through the reintroduction of native fish to areas they once inhabited 

Bo Baxter spent 25 years as a conservation biologist at the Tennessee Valley Authority. He became an active board member at Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI) upon his retirement from TVA. He soaked up knowledge of its operations and was named executive director as of Oct. 20. His path comes full circle, as he was one of the first paid staff members at Conservation Fisheries, some three decades ago.

Baxter is a member of the Hellbender Press editorial board.

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

MississippiLow-water challenges on the Mississippi River are evident at Memphis.  Dulce Torres Guzman/Tennessee Lookout

Despite the pump from Appalachian rainforests, the drought-stricken Mississippi River is the lowest it has ever been

This story was originally published by the Tennessee Lookout.

MEMPHIS John Dodson’s corn, cotton and soybean fields are fewer than 10 miles from the Mississippi River, the key transportation artery for West Tennessee grain farmers. But they might as well be a thousand miles.

Historically low water levels on the river are coming at the worst possible time for him. It’s peak harvest season, but he can’t get his crop to market. 

West Tennessee farmers have long relied on proximity to the Mississippi, delivering their crops directly from the field to the river. The ease of access has meant many farmers lack large grain storage silos that farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere rely on.  

While drought strangles transportation on the Mississippi, many of these farmers are now being forced to leave crops in the field and pray for rain to fall anywhere and everywhere else but above their harvest-ready crops.

Rate this item
(3 votes)

Chris IrwinChris Irwin poses by the Tennessee River as a TVA vessel makes its way downstream. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

From the courthouse to the river, Chris Irwin strives for purity

This is the first installment of an occasional series, Hellbent, profiling citizens who work to preserve and improve the Southern Appalachian environment.

KNOXVILLE — Chris Irwin scarfed some french fries and drank a beer and told me about his plans to save the Tennessee River.

We sat at a riverside restaurant downtown between the bridges. Not even carp came up to eat a stray fry, but a mallard family hit the free starch hard.

I asked him what he saw as we looked out over the river in the still heat of late summer.

“You know what I don’t see? he said. “People swimming.” It was truth. Nobody was fishing either, in the heart of a metro area pushing a million people. Signs warning against swimming and fishing weren’t readily visible, but he said an instinctive human revulsion likely makes such warnings unnecessary.

We all know it’s an industrial drainage ditch.”

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

fresh water Conservation FisheriesA biologist with Conservation Fisheries surveys a stretch of Little River near Walland, Tennessee to determine fish viability and identify rare species for transplantation. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Human activities have imperiled our waterways — along with a third of freshwater fish and other aquatic species

This story was originally published by The Revelator.

If we needed more motivation to save our ailing rivers, it could come with the findings of a recent study that determined the biodiversity crisis is most acute in freshwater ecosystems, which thread the Southern landscape like crucial veins and arteries.

Rivers, lakes and inland wetlands cover 1 percent of the Earth but provide homes for 10 percent of all its species, including one-third of all vertebrates. And many of those species are imperiled — some 27 percent of the nearly 30,000 freshwater species so far assessed by the IUCN Red List. This includes nearly one-third of all freshwater fish.

How did things get so bad? For some species it’s a single action — like building a dam. But for most, it’s a confluence of factors — an accumulation of harm — that builds for years or decades.

Page 1 of 3