The Harpeth Conservancy Wades into Deep Issues to Protect Our Local River—and Us

A donation drops into the center of Harpeth Conservancy, setting off waves of positive impact in all directions: toward legislation, restoration, conservation and education. When it comes to the numerous challenges facing the 870 square miles of the Harpeth Watershed, this Brentwood-based nonprofit addresses them all. And it does so from our own backyard, dedicated to the health of a river system that, for many of us, actually flows partly through our own backyards. Not bad for an organization that, when it began less than 20 years ago, had a scant $1,300 in its coffers and a mere 30 names on its membership rolls.

Today, thanks to growing community support for its critical mission, the Harpeth Conservancy employs a full-time staff of experts in conversation policy and environmental science. A good thing, too. There is a lot at stake. As one of the last three free-flowing rivers left in Tennessee, the Harpeth with its 125 miles of main river and its 1,129 miles of streams is a boon to us all, providing resources and recreation to humans while serving as one of the most biodiverse habitats on the planet to flora and fauna. For example, at least 84 native species of fish call the waters home. Yet the Harpeth River Watershed is under serious threat. As we all know, the greater Nashville area is developing rapidly, creating ever more demand for land and for water and often generating deleterious impacts, damage that is often wholly unnecessary if only best practices were implemented. And that is where Harpeth Conservancy comes in. 

Here are a few examples of how donations to this organization create currents of philanthropy that flow effectively into action both on the ground and in the water.

Donations help craft legislation.

While the Harpeth Conservancy is a strictly nonpartisan organization, working closely with politicians of all parties, the nonprofit does take one consistent position: that of good science. The Harpeth Conservancy brings good science to the table in helping local officials craft land use plans and local ordinances, particularly when it comes to issues such as the mitigation of stormwater runoff in developments or the implementation of riparian buffers along the Harpeth Watershed’s many streams.

Donations help restore and conserve.  

Just because some people unwittingly mess something up doesn’t mean other people can’t later help make it right. Take, for example, Franklin’s former low-head dam. For years, the city used to draw so much water that a stagnant pool would often form at its base in the summer, a foul-smelling eyesore to people and a deadly catastrophe to fish and other wildlife. The Harpeth Conservancy coordinated a multi-agency effort to remove this last remaining human barrier on the Harpeth, creating a fully free-flowing river and resulting in a measurable rebounding of native fish species. Not only that, but the Harpeth Conservancy helped to create a public access point and park at the place where the dam used to be.

Donations help fund scientific studies and public education.

Good science is critical, but so is an enlightened public. To help bring that about, the Harpeth Conservancy recently led more than a dozen educational events, including a family-friendly, hands-on learning event on the river itself in which participants helped collect and identify fish species. Even a rare Tippecanoe Darter was found! But there is so much to cover. For this reason, the Harpeth Conservancy publishes Citizen Action Guides and posts home and garden tips on its website. One major area of concern is nutrient pollution. Fertilizers with phosphates, whether sprayed on a farmer’s field or a homeowner’s yard, often end up in the watershed, leading to excessive algae growth, lowered dissolved oxygen levels for wildlife, and sometimes even toxic algae blooms and dead fish. Finding these algae areas is a nitrogen-laden job, but someone’s gotta do it. Thank you, Harpeth Conservancy!

To learn more about the issues facing the Harpeth River and how you can become part of the solution, visit

During the month of April, Chef Reuben Sliva of Franklin Soul will donate 10 percent of patrons’ tabs to Harpeth Conservancy when they write “Dine4OurRiver” on their tabs! Visit for hours and menu. When you visit, tell Chef Sliva thank you for going with the flow!