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EPA Regional Offices, Tennessee and Virginia Sign Agreement to protect and restore the Clinch and Powell Rivers

Release Date: 12/21/2007
Contact Information: Dawn Harris-Young, (404) 562-8421,

(ATLANTA – December 21, 2007) Today, EPA Regions 3 and 4, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), announced that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to protect and restore the Clinch and Powell Rivers in Virginia and Tennessee.

The MOU establishes a working group for coordinating the efforts of, and enhancing communication among, the signatories to protect and restore the Clinch and Powell Rivers. These five agencies have the responsibility for administering the Clean Water Act and the corresponding state laws in Tennessee and Virginia. There are also many other governmental agencies and non-governmental environmental and conservation organizations that have demonstrated an interest in and commitment to these two rivers. It is the intent of the signatories to continue to work with such other organizations to accomplish common goals.

“Leveraging the resources of all five federal and state agencies will strengthen our efforts to preserve and restore the Clinch and Powell Rivers,” said EPA Regional Administrator Jimmy Palmer. “By bridging the boundaries between our agencies and reaching out to other river stakeholders, we can better manage these critical public resources.”

The Clinch and Powell Rivers originate in the mountainous terrain of southwestern Virginia and flow southwest into Tennessee, eventually flowing into the Tennessee River. The watershed historically has been home to some of the most diverse fish and mussel populations in North America, however, studies have documented declining mussel populations.

Human activities in the watershed including coal mining and processing, agriculture, urbanization and the development of transportation corridors, have impacted the rivers and their mussels and fish. Both rivers support populations of federally threatened and endangered fish and mussel species, and segments of both rivers have been designated as critical habitat some of these species.

"We're claiming these two rivers and mobilizing actions to bring back their health," said Donald S. Welsh, EPA mid-Atlantic regional director. "With increased momentum and support, we can begin to put measures in place that are protective of the rivers and effective in improving their water quality."

“The Clinch and Powell rivers form a globally significant system that demands a concerted effort to protect it,” said David K. Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. “We in Virginia are pleased to see these agencies working together on such an important project.”

The tasks to be accomplished under the MOU are both scientific and regulatory in nature. Further scientific research is required to determine the pollutants, diseases and habitat destruction that may be impacting aquatic life, and the best methods of treatment or prevention.

Regulatory decisions to be made include a determining whether the rivers are impaired. Further, necessary Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) may need to be developed. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards, and an allocation of that amount to the pollutant's sources. Appropriate permit conditions for future discharges into the rivers and appropriate restoration priorities will also be determined.

Through coordination and communication on all of these and other efforts regarding the rivers, the signatories can provide for more efficient use of resources, reduced costs and reduced time required to take appropriate action to protect and preserve the rivers.