Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Pollution Assessment and Prevention in Tennessee

Tennessee has about 60,000 stream miles and 540,000 publicly-owned lake acres within its borders.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) identifies beneficial uses for each stream and lake from seven possible uses: tennriver.jpg

Designated uses are goals for the waterbody, not a list of current uses. Not using a stream or lake for an activity today does not mean it should not be protected for that use in the future.

In addition to designating uses, Tennessee is required to monitor water quality to see if the streams and lakes are clean enough to support their designated uses and to report the status of water quality in the state. The most recent report shows water quality in the state is generally good and improving but much remains to be done.

Water quality in Tennessee is impacted by industrial and municipal discharges. Many of these discharges move through pipes, ditches or other identifiable points.

stormdrain.jpgMuch of the water pollution comes from storm runoff that can carry sediment, pesticides, fertilizers, oil, grease and other contaminants. Common sources of this “nonpoint source” pollution include streets, parking lots, construction areas, farms and forests.

Water quality is also impacted by stream channelization. Water flows quickly through the resulting ditches or canals, eroding canal banks, increasing sedimentation and eliminating habitat for fish and other aquatic life. Past and present mining activities, impoundments and other human activities also affect water quality.

Many potential sources of water pollution are regulated by environmental permits. Another tool is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program that identifies sources of pollution and allocates control needs to achieve water quality goals.

Conditions in Your Watershed

Tennessee regularly evaluates the water quality of the state’s streams and lakes and develops lists of water-bodies that do not support designated uses. The US Environmental Protection Agency maintains on-line information on impaired Tennessee water-bodies. Information on impaired water-bodies and programs to improve water quality is also available from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Resources and Programs

The University of Tennessee (UT) research, education and Extension programs address pollution assessment and prevention as well as other water quality issues.

Extension Outreach

UT is home to the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service which develops and delivers programs providing educational outreach into all counties of the state in concert with Tennessee State University. Extension education enables research conducted at colleges, universities and other facilities around the world to be interpreted and delivered to people who can use it. Some of the Extension education programs that target pollution assessment and prevention are:

The Tennessee Farmstead Assessment System or Farm-A-Syst guides a farmer in assessing practices, structures and conditions around the farmstead that can lead to water pollution and identifying ways to prevent or remedy possible problems.

The Tennessee Home Assessment System or Home-A-Syst is designed to guide a family through a similar assessment in and around their home.

The Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service Forest*A*Syst program includes information for enhancing water quality through best management practices for stream management zones, forest roads and skid trails, log landings and stream-crossings.

Contact your county Extension office for information on other programs to protect and improve water quality.

Scientific Research

UT is also home to the Agricultural Experiment Station whose mission is to develop new technology which will enhance the efficiency of the state’s agricultural, forest and ornamental industries, improve the quality of rural life and conserve the state’s natural resources.

Research addressing pollution assessment and prevention has included tillage methods to reduce soil erosion, management practices to control nonpoint source pollution and irrigation systems management. Information on these programs is available from the Agricultural Experiment Station.

College and University Education

Degree programs and continuing education are critical to develop and enhance pollution assessment and prevention skills and abilities. Information on course offerings, degree programs and continuing education opportunities at UT is available on-line at

Courses addressing pollution assessment and prevention are offered by several departments at the U.T. Institute of Agriculture including:

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