The Conasauga has a long history of human use dating back thousands of years. Native Americans lived in the area for centuries before being removed in 1838 via the infamous "trail of Tears". Major land use changes occurred in the early 1900's when large-scale timber harvesting began.
Today forestry continues on a smaller scale, but much of the land has been converted into agricultural and urban environments. The carpet industry now leads the local economy, using water from the Conasauga for the carpet dying process. Local residents rely on the Conasauga River for drinking water. People from near and far use the river and its watershed for canoeing, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain bike riding. Over the years, declines in this river system's aquatic biodiversity and water quality became increasingly apparent, which resulted in deep concern from these residents and recreationists.
Between 1995 and 1999, citizens interested in the Conasauga River watershed in Tennessee and Georgia were brought together by the Limestone Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council to begin a close and coordinated look at their watershed. The citizens identified various threats to their river and developed cooperative solutions to protect this economically and ecologically important river system. In 1999, Limestone Valley RC&D was awarded their first Clean Water Act grant (Section 319 (h) Nonpoint Source Pollution) from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). The grant amount was $380,000, and it paid for a TNC (The Nature Conservancy) position to oversee the implementation of 24 demonstrations of best management practices. These demonstrations were used as an educational tool for area citizens and were focused on habitat modifications that reduce pollution from agriculture, forestry, urban and suburban runoff.
In 2003, mid-way in the EPA grant implementation, the Alliance hired a project coordinator (Frank Sagona) to complete the 319 grant and to assist the CRA Board of Directors. In 2004, the Conasauga River Alliance received non-profit recognition/status from the Internal Revenue Service to assist in raising conservation awareness, obtaining volunteers and implementing special projects along the Conasauga River. The Alliance had come from a group of interested citizens, but has now evolved into a formally organized business unit.
Since this designation, the CRA has been awarded several subsequent Section 319 (h) grants in addition to funding from the Five-Star Restoration Program and World Wildlife Fund. Collectively, these funds have been used to continue ecological improvements to voluntary landowners' properties by reducing pollution in runoff from agricultural fields, poultry farms, failing septic systems, eroding streambanks, and urban environments. Other funds have been used to raise awareness through workshops to educate various stakeholders (residents, teachers, business-owners) on the significance of the Conasauga River and the threats to its quality. Other projects have focused on the restoration of limestone springs, and the development of community parks for public enjoyment.