Saving most biodiverse U.S. river; First round won

Tennessee’s 284-mile Duck River is the most biodiverse waterway in the U.S. based on a 2017 study.  Unfortunately, the river is also threatened by a number of issues, mostly due to increasing watershed development and diminishing dry-weather flows. The 1400-housing unit development project, known as Columbia Bluffs, is the focus of the latest battle to save the Duck River. On July 6th river advocates won the first round when they convinced the Columbia Planning Commission to recommend that the City Council deny Columbia Bluffs annexation and upzoning. CEDS comments, at the following link, was among the factors prompting the denial: https://app.box.com/s/620cksyp2840ktzb1xrrpa5b82z67ika. For further information read on or contact Dr. Mark Seago at (931) 698-4574 or mseago@yahoo.com.

Further Detail

The eight researchers of the 164-page 2017 study, Historical and Current Examination of Freshwater Mussels (Bivalvia: Margaritiferidae: Unionidae) in the Duck River Basin Tennessee, U.S.A., wrote:

“By all accounts the Duck River has the greatest mussel species richness of any tributary system throughout the United States.”

A basic ecological concept is that the greater the number of species (species richness) the healthier and more stable a population or ecosystem. Table 6, on page 23, of the 2017 study shows 15 mussel species at Columbia Dam in 1922, then 29 by 1965, and 33 in 2002. The researchers also wrote:

“Recovery of mussel resources in the Duck River as reported here is unprecedented.

Columbia Bluffs and other development threatens the continued recovery of the Duck River by replacing forest with rooftops, streets and other pollution-generating impervious surfaces. CEDS also found that the 413-acre Columbia Bluffs site was unsuited to the highly-effective Best Management Practices (BMPs) need to negate runoff pollution and other project impacts. 

CEDS did not just call for no-growth. Instead, Columbia City planners were urged to adopt a Conservation category for future growth and apply it to the 413-acre site. Some of the provisions essential to allowing a reasonable amount of development on lands designated Conservation while preserving ecological benefits were:

  • Preserve at least half a site as forest,
  • Require a minimum 100-foot forest buffers along all waters,
  • Restrict uses to residential or other low-intensity uses,
  • Buildings should be clustered so runoff would flow to soils suited to highly-effective stormwater BMPs, like infiltration and bioretention, and
  • Buildings should be served with wells and advanced treatment septic systems; not public water-sewer.

Our clients viewed Duck River impacts as symptomatic of a larger pattern of poorly managed growth in the Columbia area. They had launched a Say No to Columbia Bluffs Development petition signed by 1,081 people, many of which live in the Columbia area. A number of signers commented that they were also concerned by increasingly crowded schools and classrooms. Another CEDS comments letter (at the following link) documented that area school overcrowding had risen from 48% in 2016 to 62% last year: https://app.box.com/s/eqyzegrac55beyumqyyiy4r33j7w1enf.

The Columbia City Council will be the final annexation-upzoning decision-maker. The Council will likely hold their hearing in September. Our clients are gearing up for that hearing by educating the 22,950 Columbia City voters about how they can gain growth benefits without jeopardizing the Duck River, their children’s education, and other quality of life elements. Columbia Bluffs is being used to illustrate poorly-managed growth and the benefit of a more responsible approach. Voters will be urged to call upon their elected City Council representatives to follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny Columbia Bluffs annexation and upzoning.

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