Illegal sewage discharges are a major source of pollution in the Tennessee River basin. Riverkeeper's findings indicate that partially treated and raw sewage are being discharged into the river and streams throughout the watershed. When raw sewage is discharged into surface water it carries with it bacteria, pathogens, and viruses that can be a threat to public health for many months. Unlike many complacent local authorities, we see this as a major threat that needs to be eradicated. When we find a facility that is violating its permit then Riverkeeper works with them to clean up the problem, using litigation if necessary. Read more about our sewage campaign>

Waste Water Treatment Plant
The top priority campaign for Tennessee Riverkeeper is to systematically investigate sewage from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in the Tennessee River basin, such as the WWTP in Decatur, AL shown above.


Every year hundreds of billions of gallons of untreated sewage flow into waterways across America. Americans and their loved ones risk serious illness when untreated sewage seeps into the water they use for recreation or drinking. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 7 million people suffer from mild to moderate illnesses caused by untreated sewage every year. Another ½ million citizens become seriously ill.


Most illnesses that arise from contact with untreated sewage are caused by pathogens, which are biological agents that cause disease or illness in a host. The most common pathogens in sewage are bacteria, parasites, and viruses. They cause a wide variety of acute illnesses including infections and diarrhea.

There is growing concern about the illnesses caused by pharmaceuticals, synthetic hormones, and other pollutants found in many waterways across the country. Many of them enter our waterways through the sewage system. Certain
compounds called endocrine disruptors may disrupt processes in humans that are controlled by hormones, including development, growth, and reproduction. These compounds are already thought to be causing cancer and genetic defects in fish.