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Upper Cumberland cities sued for violations of Clean Water Act

Cane Creek is a city-run park hosting outdoor recreational activities such as mountain biking, disc golf and kayaking. Photo by Elliot Payne.

The cities of Cookeville and Sparta have been named in a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.

The complaints, filed in the U.S. District Court by Tennessee Riverkeepers, Inc. claims Cookeville and Sparta are in violation of provisions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit by discharging pollutants into waterways to “avoid overflows.”

According to court documents, it is alleged that “illegal discharges” enter Calfkiller River, Town Creek, Blackburn Fork, Little Creek and Cane Creek.

“These discharges affect Calfkiller River, Town Creek, Caney Fork and Center Hill Lake, all of which are tributaries of Cumberland River,” Riverkeeper attorneys said in the complaint against Sparta. “The violations alleged herein have had a detrimental impact on Tennessee Riverkeepers members’ interests because the violations have adversely affected and/or diminished aquatic life and water quality.”

The complaint against Cookeville alleges the discharges affect Falling Water River in addition to Caney Fork and Center Hill Lake.

Members of the Tennessee Riverkeepers who wrote declarations in support of the complaint include Matthew Tobey, James M. Redwine, John Noel, Jon Jonakin and Matthew Jameson — all with a vested interest in the area as citizens or homeowners.

Attorneys for the Tennessee Riverkeepers say its members and citizens within Sparta and Cookeville would enjoy the waterways if they knew they were not “polluted by sewage.”

The suit petitions the court to render judgment finding Sparta in violation of NPDES rules, to issue an injunction to remedy the “illegal discharges,” and to assess $59,973 for each violation and each day the violation continues. The suit also seeks to reward attorney’s fees.

The Tennessee Riverkeepers estimate a total of 3,745,082 gallons in sewage overflows in Sparta, and an estimated 10,963,060 gallons in Cookeville.

In addition to Cookeville and Sparta, the Tennessee Riverkeepers have lawsuits filed against other cities in the state including Harstell, Lewisburg and Clarksville.