Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri)

Stream Salamanders are on the move this time of year and we need help finding out if they still live here. Please use this summary the Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Department of Environment and Conservation provided for guidance identifying Streamside Salamanders (adult) and its winter-breeding habitat:

Because of the sensitive nature of this species and its habitat, the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance asks only that citizens become aware of the Streamside Salamander and its habitat requirements, and report back potential observations of adults and winter survey sites. Photographs are welcomed! We do not encourage wanton examination of sites for eggs, for fear that rocks utilized for breeding may not be returned to their normal resting position. Ambystoma barbouri is protected as a “Deemed in Need of Management” species by the TWRA, and specific permissions are required to conduct research.

The distinctive gray and black speckled appearance of A. barbouri, coupled with its timely arrival at breeding sites, provides for reasonably straightforward confirmation of this species.

The Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri) is a winter-breeding species once considered abundant in the Green Hills area of Nashville. In 1965, a Belmont College researcher documented a “fair sized colony of Ambystoma [barbouri], including adults, eggs, and larvae” from “an intermittent stream in a bare vacant lot” in Green Hills, and observed five more “rather large colonies” from “similar habitats…spread geographically over many miles…” Although six populations were documented, the species was seemingly so plentiful that the author did not report exact locations. A 1967 Austin Peay State University collection from Hillsboro High School suggests that at least one population was present in an unnamed tributary to Sugartree Creek at that time.

No eggs, larvae, or adults have been documented in Green Hills since, despite repeated survey attempts by several researchers.

Streamside Salamanders are unique to Tennessee ambystomatids (the mole salamanders), and RCWAblogHabitatare considered genetically distinct from more northerly populations. Though all but hidden for most of the year, they come to winter ephemeral channels (in general) to breed between mid-December and mid-March. And although they will utilize streams that flow year-round, they especially prefer small, bedrock-bottomed streams with no large fish predators (such as sunfish). They lay very recognizable black eggs under slab rock resting on bedrock, and may remain with the eggs for a short period. Many of the best breeding sites are bone-dry in summer, but have gentle flows from late fall until early spring.

The former Green Hills populations may have been in the Richland Creek or Browns Creek watersheds, or both. Suitable habitats today should include headwater streams with minimal gradient and natural, unembedded rock cover. Rediscovery of this species in greater Green Hills would represent a noteworthy find, as at present only one marginally Davidson County occurrence is known.

David Ian Withers | Zoologist

Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Division of Natural Areas, Department of Environment and Conservation, William R. Snodgrass TN Tower, 2nd Floor 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, Nashville, TN 37243 p. 615-532-0441 c. 615-289-3520

Email: david.withers@tn.gov



heron, rockWhy stand up?

7-months after filing Petition… 

Imperial House, May 2010

Our case in Chancery Court requesting review of BL2015-1094 continues to require additional hearings in court, driving up the cost to have the case heard in court. Metro Government and Saint Thomas are challenging our standing, our ability to have the case heard by the court. We are asking the court to review the Ordinance, which authorizes building to occur in the stream buffer and the floodplain. Passage of this Ordinance sets a bad precedent that threatens Richland Creek, and all streams in Davidson County. (Photo:  Imperial House, 2010)

At the January 15, 2016 Motion Hearing, Metro suggested RCWA president is the lone objection to BL2015-1094. What we know is that people are surprised when they hear about this development plan, and that the RCWA president is not alone. The public deserves their day in court—A voice on the matter.  (Monette Rebecca, RCWA president).

Background… May 2015, the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance filed a Petition in Chancery Court, asking for review of the Saint Thomas development plan for the old Imperial House property that Metro Council approved (BL2015-1094). We were surprised, and disagreed when Metro approved a blanket exemption to the stream buffer RULE during this rezoning. Forested areas next to streams, called “stream buffers,” capture and filter-out pollution, prevent bank erosion and control flooding. These buffers are critical for fish and aquatic life to survive and thrive. Protected, stream buffers have many community benefits and must be maintained to keep flood insurance rates low for property owners.

Our attorney…Crop Sharon O. Jacobs of Bone McAlester Norton PLLC has been working tirelessly on getting our case heard by the court. Many documents have been filed and responded to in addition to court appearances, which is increasing legal costs. With many deadlines looming, and the trial set for August 2 & 3, we need your support more than ever.

Stand up. Be counted for Richland Creek… Persistent questioning about our standing is redundant and a waste of time and money. Your annual RCWA membership shows that you care about Richland Creek, and will help cover the growing cost for case. While we all appreciate Nashville’s status as a booming “it city” with a thriving economy, we cannot let our growth and progress cause us to lose the valuable natural treasure we have in Richland Creek. We can have both healthy growth and protect these natural treasures with thoughtful planning. Your support makes a difference! Join RCWA…

MWStormwaterManual-Fig 6.3RCWA supports development (progress), but it need not come at the expense of a freshwater resource.  We are only asking that Metro comply with its own Code of Laws when approving new development. We need to bring our attitude toward our water resources into the 21st century. RCWA is not opposed to development, but we do stand strong for compliance with already existing stream buffer regulations. Stream buffer zones are indicated in the Metro Stormwater Manual graphic (shown). Building in buffers and floodplains degrade a stream’s waters and habitat, threatens our flood insurance rates and FEMA approved program, and increases flood risk.
Let’s build in compliance with our current law, not buffer zones!

NOTE: Because Metro staff waived the stream buffer Rule, a Stormwater Management Committee hearing would not be required for the Saint Thomas development, as was required for the Blakeford Place plan (discussed below), which RCWA attended January 7, 2016. SWMC hearings provide an opportunity for careful consideration of the effects of a development on our freshwater resources, and allow the community to weigh in.


January 7, 2016 SWMC Meeting
The Stormwater Management Committee (SWMC) reviews requests for stormwater variances, and appeals. We have attended many SWMC hearings, and seen many applications requesting a variance to disturb, and/or build in the stream buffer.

RCWA joined local neighbors at the January 7th SWMC hearing, to speak-up in support of the little remaining Sugartree Creek habitat on the Blakeford Place property, in the Burton Hills complex of Green Hills. RCWA and neighbors opposed building in the stream buffer. Sugartree Creek is a major tributary to Richland Creek, once an ecologically rich freshwater stream. Many varieties of wildlife stills depend on this Sugartree Creek habitat, as we illustrated to the Committee with photos. We are pleased to report… the SWMC members voted UNANIOUSLY to deny this variance request. The process works and should not be bypassed.



RCWA filed documents requesting Chancery Court review Ordinance BL2015-1094, the Saint Thomas Hospital Specific Plan that Metro Council approved May 21, 2015.  August 14, 2015 Judge McCoy denied  Motion to Dismiss the case.

A Summary Judgement hearing has been scheduled for June 24, 2016, 9 AM. Please check “updates” at the bottom of this post for latest news about our case.

More background… RCWA spoke out and submitted comments at the public hearings of the Metro Planning Commission and Council. We also sent a letter to Metro Water Services Assistant Director, Tom Palko on May 11, questiioning the department’s exemption of the floodway buffer requirement for the St. Thomas Plan.  This irregularity, and the failure to use the latest FEMA Flood maps were the reasons why RCWA asked for clarification from Chancery Court.

The Imperial House property May 2010, St. Thomas redevelopment site.

The Imperial House  May 2010, St. Thomas redevelopment site.

RCWA does not like to spend time and $$ in court actions, but if we don’t act, Richland Creek will not survive urbanization.

The decision to move forward with intense development in the floodplain, WITHOUT stream buffer protection will cause irreversible harm to Richland Creek, while increasing flood risk, and setting a precedence for more of the same throughout Davidson County.

Protecting the floodway buffer requirement RULE is good for all the streams and residents in Davidson County. Intense development in floodplains inevitably creates a call for expensive flood control measures to be installed that threaten aquatic ecosytems. Our mission is to protect Richland Creek, its ability to support fish and aquatic life.

To help defend Nashville’s freshwater resources…  Donate online here, or by mail to: “RCWA” P.O. Box 92016 Nashville, TN 37209.  Thank you.

LATEST UPDATES ….
Davidson County Chancery Court, Case #15-0643-II         
September 9, 2016 – Summary Judgement Hearing (Judicial Officer Bonnyman, Claudia C)
July 1, 2016 – Order transferring case from Part II to Part I
June 27, 2016 Summary Judgement (Order of Recusal)
August 14, 2015 Motion to Dismiss, Denied.


The Metro Planning Commission approved, with conditions the St. Thomas Hospital Specific Plan (rezone) at thier March 26 Public Hearing.  Conditions were directed to be completed with filing of thier final Specific Plan.

Conditions include:

  • Stream bank restoration and removal of all the impervious surfaces on the old Knights of Columbus (KOC) property
  • A Conservaiton Overlay be placed on the floodway portion of the Imperial House property and on all of the KOC property
  • Traffic Impact Study completed for area

St. Thomas will seek approval from the Metro Council right away, with the first reading expected to be in April and second reading already scheduled for May 5, 2015 (Public Hearing).

Get the Metro staff report filed with Planning, including prelimnary site plan here.

The Planning Commission approved development of 450,000 square feet of mixed use and 230 residential units on 6.76 acres next to the currently designated Richland Creek floodway. Land use rights from both properties (office retail & residential) were combined and placed onto the old Imperial House property (Parcel B), zoned RM 40.  Photo of the Imperial House property was taken May 2010.

Metro Stormwater approved the Plan as filed, stating the 75-foot floodway buffer requirement was exempt because property was previously developed.

We will keep you updated.



Joel Bell Covington, Jr.
(1948—2015)

RCWA had no idea how fortunate we were, when Joel volunteered for our dissolved oxygen study in August 2011.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the Creek, after being there just six-hours earlier to collect samples, Joel’s natural demeanor shined the last morning of our study.

An avid fisherman, strong advocate for rivers and streams, Joel served on our board the next two-years. He shared his expertise and passion freely, keeping us to task and distilling points for effect. We are grateful he took time from his rich, busy life. His good sense and forthcoming ways quickly made him a dear friend, contributing long-lasting impact to our mission. He later served as president for his neighborhood association (Whitland area).

His wonderful wife Charlotte, partner of 45-years, and his entire loving family know how much can be attributed to Joel, but in the spirit of his way—less is more, we will keep it short. Goodbye Joel. You are and will be sorely missed.

There is a celebration for Joel on Sunday, March 8 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at Cheekwood Botanical Hall. A change in date was made due to weather, so friends and family out of town may travel, attend.

Here is The Tennessean obituary and Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management tribute.



At a Public Hearing held by TDEC Division of Water Resources on Feb 19, RCWA provided a Handout outlining issues and conditions recommended for approval of Whitworth Subdivison’s request for a TDEC Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit—to dredge a portion of their 3.5-acre in-line pond for removal of 3000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment.

It took considerable amount of time to review the subdivision’s 3-phase Planned Unit Development (PUD) files, spanning 20+ years of construction, additions, and alterations. The Handout speaks to the problems found, justifying a call for conditions to be implemented for permit approval.

The in-line pond construction occurred during the PUD Phase III [1990s] timeline. Many adjustments and additions had to be made, including reconstruction. Perhaps missteps and issues would have been averted if regulatory agencies were consulted?  The pond is illicit, without legal standing, and documents called for something much different (a detention pond) than what exists today (a retention pond).

Approx. 3.5 acres, Whitworth pond

Approx. 3.5 acres, Whitworth pond

A detention pond holds storm water runoff for a short period of time and filtrates-out pollution, and reduces surface storage. A retention pond holds runoff for a much longer period of time, provides no mitigation of runoff pollution, and leaves less flood storage available. (The pond’s impervious liner prevents filtration.)  Read more.

Built in path of stream channel, the pond collects two upland freshwater tributaries headed west to Bosley Springs Branch that immediately mix with an exorbitant amount of stormwater runoff that includes I-440. Placement of the pond, and its stormwater toxic-mix has impacted water quality, altered fish habitat, and increased flood risk.

Our conditions for mitigation ask that: freshwaters be conveyed back to the Bosley Springs Branch, a bio-retention area be created, and any dredging be conducted during the dry season. The results would be cleaner water, freshwater reconnecting to a natural channel, and more flood storage made available.

We proposed a joint public/private plan to Whitworth representatives as a long-term solution to the issues created by the original pond construction and subsequent attempts to maintain its status. Our plan aims at preserving Bosley Springs Branch and Richland Creek as a freshwater habitat for fish and aquatic life.

The Division will make a decision for the permit after the public comment period ends, and announced it is extending the comment period until March 2. Send comments to:

STATE OF TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION DIVISION OF WATER RESOURCES

Attn: Brian Canada
William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 11th Floor
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-1102
Email: Brian.Canada@TN.GOV
FAX: 615-532-0686



Read the RCWA Press Release sent out to local media outlets February 16—TDEC Holds Public Hearing on Whitworth Permit to Dredge Pond. 

RCWA has discussed devising a long-term restoration plan with Whitworth to meet state water quality standards for fish and aquatic habitat.  The hearing is a great opportunity for people to express support for developing a joint public/private plan that could serve as a model solution for other restoration efforts. The issue here, is that a detention pond, conceived to mitigate stormwater for a Planned Unit Development (PUD), doesn’t serve that purpose.  Please read press release! 

image001



Richland Creek Nashville Tennessee

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued notice for an Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit  on December 10 concerning Richland Creek.  Citizens have 30 days from that date to request a Public Hearing.

Grab your favorite holiday beverage and write a brief letter asking TDEC to hold a public hearing about this permit that must arrive by January 10, 2015.

Please include the permit #NRS14.318, your name, address and a water quality concern you have in your letter, then mail it to the attention of:
Brian Canada
Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation
Division of Water Resources, Natural Resources Unit
William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 11th Floor
Nashville, TN 37243

Citizens have a vested interest in the integrity and health of our streams and watershed. The Whitworth development had impounded a branch of Richland Creek to create a pond, and is requesting a permit to dredge the resource to remove accumulated sediment. Besides dirt and stormwater pollution issues, TDEC determined water quality is poor—high concentration of Nitrate and Phosphorus, and not meeting its most important classified use—fish and aquaitc life.

The pond construction obstructs natural flow downstream, eliminating the ability of water to reach the branch in the Whitland neighborhood that residents love and named Kingfisher (aka Bosley Springs).

We submitted our public hearing request, pointing out that citizens need ample time to understand and ask questions about this permit. The notice was issued 15 days before the busiest time of the year, when many are out of town celebrating the holiday. There is no good reason for the pond, the pollution it creates, or the stream flow it obstructs. Let’s not continue to dredge, but restore its natural flow and habitat to improve water quality at Whitworth, Kingfisher and Richland Creek.

Read TDEC’s permit notice here.
Read our letter requesting a public hearing.

Thanks for taking time during this holiday season to defend Richland Creek!



IMG_0761 small  IMG_074 small Turns out, the tanker spill that occurred on August 13 was not prevented from reaching Richland Creek, as news reported.  RCWA visited Richland Creek and sent an official letter to Tri Star Transport LLC August 14.

Read our action update.

Read official letter sent to Tri Star Transport LLC.

Briefly…  Because we heard conflicting news reports about impact to Richland Creek by tanker accident, RCWA went and looked firsthand. The day after, we observed the spill had clearly entered Richland Creek and petroleum product was still flowing downstream, beyond containment booms in Creek. Many dead fish, crayfish and snakes were seen at containment area where environmental clean-up crew, Shield Environmental were still working. Oddly, they had reported “no fish dead” in Richland Creek same day.

Clearly the public was misinformed.  

Read our latest email update regarding the fuel spill incident…

Tennessean reports driver of tanker cited by Metro Police. Read more…

Citizens file lawsuit against driver of truck and Tri star, almost a year later… Read Fox 17 News story here.



RCWA received 43 gifts, totaling $2,420 for the Big Payback! We will put your generosity to work for Richland Creek!

Wow! The Big Payback made an amazing impact on Nashville and Middle Tennessee nonprofits. In one 24-hour period, 11,468 gifts raised $1,492,492.50! We were proud to be a participant in this inaugural event.

Big cheers and special thanks to Coco’s Italian Market for hosting our Watch Party and donating a sponsor level gift at happy hour! The staff was so welcoming and terrific, and as usual, the pizza delicious!

And a big thanks to our Big Payback supporters!



Richland Creek Watershed Alliance. All rights reserved. Richland Creek Watershed Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation | P.O. Box 92016 Nashville, TN 37209 | (615) 525-3379