History of Chattanooga Creek

Chattanooga Creek has consistently ranked as one of the most problematic streams in the City, with some portions eventually registered as a Superfund site on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1995. Much like many areas in Chattanooga, the creek was home to a variety of industries, which led to pollution, including dioxins, PCBs, and creosote that ultimately damaged the landscape and sickened residents. After a lengthy cleanup period of nearly three decades, it was officially removed from the NPL in 2019 when successive testing concluded that the site no longer posed a threat to residents living and working near the creek, but in reality, the work has just begun

We ALL live downstream

Although Chattanooga Creek shows signs of lasting improvement, new threats are currently jeopardizing its water quality. Stormwater runoff causing sewage overflows and large amounts of plastic litter are the main pollutants that plague this stream, and WaterWays is working with a variety of partners to help find creative solutions to these problems. Chattanooga Creek flows into the Tennessee River, bringing all the sewage, stormwater pollution, and macro and microplastics with it, which in turn affects the potential health of everyone in Chattanooga. Read on to see how WaterWays has spearheaded the effort to remediate and restore the creek so future generations can continue to enjoy it.

“The greatest threat to Chattanooga Creek today is plastic pollution from litter and stormwater runoff. Preliminary testing shows high numbers of microplastic particles and fibers that can be toxic to freshwater organisms. In partnership with Waterways, researchers aim to identify and mitigate the sources of litter, microplastics, and other urban pollutants.”

– Dr. Stephanie DeVries, Assistant Professor of Hydrology at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC)


Addressing stormwater pollution

We can all work together to take action against the greatest pollution problems in the water column, including sewage from stormwater runoff. The City of Chattanooga is working to reduce sewer overflows by constructing holding basins and treating that waste. WaterWays is increasing our work in the watershed to decrease the amount of stormwater REACHING those basins by providing guidance to homeowners, schools, and businesses on how to infiltrate more rainwater on their properties. Through our partnership with the City and the RainSmart Yards program, we also help residents access resources and funding opportunities to control and reduce stormwater runoff from overwhelming the system. Litter is another issue we can tackle together!    


Litterbugs beware!

In 2018, When Dr. Andreas Fath discovered the Tennessee River had some of the highest levels of microplastics in the world, he created quite a stir. One of the obvious sources of this pollution is the direct connection between Chattanooga Creek and the Tennessee River. We launched our Adopt-A-Waterway program in 2019 to encourage community cleanups of imperiled streams. Chattanooga Creek was among the first sites selected, headed up by Randy Wharton and Wild Trails, who have been actively picking up litter along the creek since 2017! Despite the years of volunteer cleanups along the creek, we knew we still needed to find larger-scale solutions for the plastic inundation.

This year, we partnered with Osprey Initiative, Wild Trails, and the City of Chattanooga to install the first-ever litter boom in the state of Tennessee!  Placed in the middle of Chattanooga Creek, the boom serves as a litter capture device to collect any plastic waste that would otherwise find its way into the Tennessee River. Litter is subsequently removed, sorted, and analyzed to determine where it originates, and from there, we can work to reduce it even further at its source. With the help of multiple partners and grant funding, including the Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program and an Urban Waters Grant from the National Wildlife Foundation, we conducted the first removal and successfully withdrew nearly 700 lbs of litter!

Community outreach and education

The best way to implement change is to involve the surrounding communities in the process and WaterWays is proud to work with the residents in and around the Chattanooga Creek Watershed to move forward on these issues. In addition to the grants previously mentioned, WaterWays was also the recipient of American Water’s Keeping Communities Flowing Grant! Funds will go towards a variety of community development initiatives in this area, including school programs, outdoor classroom builds, the creation of an environmental college for adults, and job training in green infrastructure for teens. The grants will be utilized to educate and inform students and the community alike while also providing paid environmental internships and improving access to water-based recreation for lower-income neighborhoods. We hope to provide an opportunity for the community to learn more about their local streams and to participate in the continued stewardship of this watershed.    


Take action against litter in Chattanooga Creek! You can help solve this litter crisis! 

  • Reduce your use of single use plastic and responsibly recycle what you do use (only plastic #’s 1 and 2 are recyclable in our area unless you use the orange bag program).  
  • Volunteer for cleanups or to help us educate school children and adults.  
  • Donate and help us find a long term solution.




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