Today is World Soil Day, and we’d like to take the opportunity to highlight just how important the soil is to us, and for our work to protect, connect, and renew the Richland Creek ecosystem. Soil is truly remarkable, and essential for the health and function of our ecosystems. Bottomlands are the low-lying lands along waterways, and the soil found in them is some of the most fertile and well draining that exist. The soils throughout a watershed are purposeful and important for ecosystems and the natural benefits they provide for food, plants, animals, and people. Protecting soil is vital! One inch of topsoil takes at least 100 years to form, according to USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, and can take longer depending on vegetation and climate. They’ve also stated, “Improving the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important conservation endeavors of our time.”

Good, healthy soil performs many important functions. The most obvious benefit of soil is that it supports plant growth. One gram of healthy soil can contain up to one billion microorganisms! These microorganisms break down dead organic matter into nutrients that feed plants. Good soil produces healthy trees, vegetable gardens, and flowers. In short, the quality of your soil determines the quality of what you grow.

Another benefit soil provides is to soak up stormwater and direct it to groundwater sources, while filtering out pollutants along the way. The slow groundwater recharge gives our local waterways their base flow. In case you didn’t know, creeks flow daily because of this base flow, even on dry days. Having plenty of high-quality soil contributes to better water quality and higher capacity for storage in our watershed. Soil also acts as a carbon sink, just as trees do, absorbing carbon from the air.

  Healthy soil can be easily disrupted by the way we do or don’t take care of our land. Removing topsoil for use elsewhere can disrupt the fragile microbiome that is important to an ecosystem’s function. Monoculture lawns are frequently mowed and remove nutrients from the soil without replacing them, leading to soil depletion. Soil erosion creates problems both for the land and water environments. The excessive creation of hard surfaces in urban areas directs water mainly to concrete stormwater infrastructure. This increases the volume of stormwater and creates flashy behavior, as seen in the graph below. Instead of a gradual increase of water entering the creek over time, we get sharp peaks of stormwater entering the creek very quickly. The unnatural flashy behavior produced by this urban practice hastens the erosion of soil on the banks of our waterways, which contributes to the loss of many old trees, and increases the amount of sediment (dirt) in the water that impairs the aquatic habitat.

Here are some things you can do to help.

  • Advocate for more soil-water interaction during development.
  • Create more opportunities for your yard to capture water, such as just letting the downspout run to a tree, garden, or across your lawn.
  • Plant native trees and plants in your garden.
  • Start a compost pile, using your leaves, clippings, and plant debris for soil formation and to feed your garden.

Our Executive Director believes soil and water are the two most important resources for our planet and ecosystems. Understanding and appreciating the benefit of soil inspires us to inspire you to go out and work for its health. Our obligation to the future is to leave healthy soil and clean water. Our natural heritage needs us all to participate.

Will Southard

Outreach Coordinator

20180906_104849        Hi! I’m Will Southard, an AmeriCorps member serving with Richland Creek Watershed Alliance as the Outreach Coordinator. I will be assisting with the Riparian Renewal Program, restoring the Richland Creek’s habitats through eradication of invasive plants and re-planting of native species in riparian buffers. I’ll be doing social media and website content, helping with educational workshops, and planning community outreach activities. You may also meet me representing RCWA with the Nashville Waterways Consortium’s R!VIVE Nashville campaign.

        I graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA) this year, studying environmental science with a hydrology focus. I gained additional experience in community programming in college, and interned at the National Parks Services’ National Capital Region working on a study quantifying the hydrologic benefits of urban trees. Throughout my time at UVA, I was very involved in a student group, Sustainability Advocates, which was focused on boosting recycling and composting efforts at the university and educating the student body about sustainability-focused initiatives. My last semester at UVA, I worked with a small group of students creating a stormwater management proposal for a riverside community in Norfolk, VA. They are experiencing increased flooding issues similar to Nashville’s recent flooding. We focused on green solutions to stormwater issues like rain gardens, bioswales, and waterway buffers. I plan to attend graduate school for urban and environmental planning, with a focus on city planning with responsible environmental interaction in mind.

         I’m originally from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, located in the western part of the state. Hiking, kayaking, and swimming were a huge part of my childhood, and continue to be important in my life. All of the water in the Shenandoah Valley flows east to the Chesapeake Bay, bringing with it runoff from agricultural fields and paved surfaces. The Chesapeake Bay has been severely impacted by harmful algal blooms (and oxygen dead zones that follow them HABs) as a result of this nutrient overloading. Once I started studying the Chesapeake Bay and its issues, I wanted to work educating people about their interactions with both local and regional waterways. Serving with RCWA is an opportunity to help educate people about the effects of their actions locally, while also continuing my own education about urban streams. I’m very excited to learn more about the unique ecology of Nashville’s local waterways, while simultaneously working to improve the community’s understanding of the issues facing urban waterways. RCWA works on everything from implementing riparian restoration to community outreach, and I’m excited to be serving with an organization that works in so many different spheres to protect and restore a local waterway. I’ll also be helping RCWA and partners with their campaign, R!VIVE! Nashville— a movement to revitalize Nashville’s streams and rivers.

        I’m here in Nashville after being selected for the AmeriCorps position through Hands on Nashville. The AmeriCorps program is a community service organization focused on supporting volunteers that work to build capacity for non-profits. I joined AmeriCorps because it was an opportunity to dive right into the environmental issues facing modern urban spaces. As I begin my term of service, I look forward to learning all about RCWA and the Richland Creek Watershed community. Hands on Nashville is still accepting applications for several AmericCorps positions to be filled by October. If you or someone you know is interested, follow this link: https://www.hon.org/americorps

        You can find more information about the Rivive! Nashville campaign at https://rivivenashville.org/

         I hope you are as excited as I am for the upcoming year, and I look forward to meeting and working with you to help restore Richland Creek!


NWC partnership. get started

We are proud to announce our partnership with the Nashville Waterways Consortium! Last year we came together with four other environmental conservation nonprofits to form the Consortium. Our mission is to inspire Nashvillians to take action for clean water and healthy streams for current and future generations.  The Nashville Waterways Consortium is a collaboration among The Cumberland River Compact, The Harpeth Conservancy, The Nature Consevancy, The Richland Creek Watershed Alliance and The Tennessee Environmental Council, generously funded by The Dan and Margaret Maddox Charitable Fund.

Five Organizations. One Mission


We’re excited to let you know the Consortium just kicked off R!VIVE! Nashville! Learn more about the initiative at its interactive website, Rivivenashville.org.

R!VIVE! NashvilleStay in touch with Rivive Nashville events, sign up for updates today!

The Constorium is launching the Rivive Initiative this fall with art projects and events to educate the public about the hundreds of waterway miles in Nashville, and inspire us all to get out and enjoy our streams and Cumberland River. Read the full press release…

Through a partnership with the Nashville Walls Project, we’re excited to let you know the Consortium has commissioned a mural to be painted downtown this October by international renowned artist Beau Stanton!  Watch Beau paint the Mural on 5th and Commerce Oct 17-25. Check out the Rivive Nashville Events for more fun ways to get involved!


Thanks for your continued support of the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance.  

Together we make a difference!


Before after photoWe are pleased to announce that we have been able to successfully resolve our legal dispute with Metro and Saint Thomas regarding the redevelopment of the Imperial House property located next to Saint Thomas West Hospital.

In Richland Creek Watershed Alliance, Inc. v. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, et al, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court in May of 2015, RCWA challenged the validity of the Metro Council’s adoption of Ordinance No. BL2015-1094, which granted a rezoning request to Saint Thomas to change the zoning of the Imperial House property and the Knights of Columbus property on Bosley Springs Road to a Specific Plan (SP) zoning district pursuant to a Specific Plan that was approved as part of the adoption of the Ordinance.

RCWA spoke on behalf of the creek at the public hearings and met with the parties involved to try to make sure the protection of Richland Creek was a consideration in any plans for development. The creek runs between the two parcels at issue and the entire area was completely underwater during the 2010 flood. RCWA was forced to file suit when Metro granted the rezoning request without requiring any floodway buffer on the Imperial House site, interpreting the applicable ordinances to exempt the property from compliance with the current Metro Stormwater regulations because it had been “previously developed.”   Applying this interpretation to this development and other development in the city would have had a devastating effect on the quality of Nashville’s freshwater streams. It was the first time the ordinance had been applied in this way. We had no choice but to take action.

After nearly two years of litigation, and with an appeal pending in the Court of Appeals, we are very grateful to Saint Thomas and to our attorney, Sharon Jacobs of Bone McAllester, for working with RCWA to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution to this dispute.   Saint Thomas agreed to modify their Specific Plan (BL2017-655) to provide for and maintain a water quality buffer on the former Imperial House property and to add additional buffer protection to the Saint Thomas West property. In accordance with protections lobbied for by RCWA, the Knights of Columbus property will be placed under a conservation easement and not developed and impervious areas (old concrete pavement) located on that property will be removed and revegetated. Other remediation work may also be conducted as approved by Metro Stormwater, including bank restoration and tree plantings.

We appreciate the public support of our efforts in challenging this rezoning. We are especially excited to share that, as a result of bringing to light this potentially disastrous conflict between the Metro ordinances and the Metro Stormwater regulations, the Metro Council has passed Ordinance BL-2016-513, eliminating the conflicting ordinance language and making it clear that, when property is redeveloped, the floodway buffers will have to be preserved. We thank the Metro Council, Mayor Barry, and the Metro Stormwater staff for taking this important step toward providing that our streams and other waters are protected as Nashville grows.

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 unanimously 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.

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.

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:


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

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