Officials seek water solution for Little Milligan

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

State and county officials on Tuesday night gathered in the Carter County courthouse to discuss how to provide a reliable source of water to the Little Milligan area.
   Last month, officials formed the Little Milligan Water Project to work toward a solution. Members are considering forming a separate utility for the area.
   J.R. Campbell, Little Milligan Elementary School principal, said he and other residents had located a source in the Fish Springs Community that could serve as an adequate groundwater source.
   Carter County planning director, Chris Schuettler and resident, Bill Finney, performed a background test on the old Hank Johnson spring to determine if it meets groundwater regulations. Results confirmed that the water is reliable. However, other tests still need to be conducted, particulary a seven day bacteriological test and chemical testing.
   Gaye Irwin, representing the Tennessee Department of Conservation (TDEC), said the spring will also need to undergo a "drawdown" test.
   "A drawdown test will effect whether or not the spring would meet requirements. It also doesn't address a chemical analysis, but since the area is surrounded by farm land and national forest, the quality is probably good," Irwin said.
   A true groundwater source does not require filtration, an important consideration in a solution for Little Milligan, since the cost of filtering water could run into the millions of dollars.
   A drawdown test involves digging a well that creates adequate pressure so that problems like turbidity and bacterial content can be assessed.
   Residents said they approached Hank Johnson, who said he might be interested in selling or leasing the spring, but they didn't have the chance to talk with him in depth.
   Irwin clarified that a secondary source of water, besides the Hank Johnson spring, will need to be located before a utility can be formed.
   Members considered Smith Hollow and Butler as areas to consider as secondary sources. However, the sites must qualify as a true groundwater source that is reliable for consumption.
   Irwin also explained that, in order to form a utility, there must be enough residents willing to pay the amount necessary on a monthly basis to sustain it.
   Campbell said he believes approximately 175 residents might sign a petition to form the utility and be willing to pay for it. Members asked Irwin if TDEC is willing to assist them in the technicalities of the project.
   "You must be able to prove that you can float independently financially as a utility. From that point, we can help you," Irwin said.
   Fair stated other options available, such as bringing the project before the Watauga Regional Water Authority or purchasing water from Hampton and Mountain City. He also raised the issue of funding.
   Possible state sources of funding are an Imminent Threat Grant handed to the state by the federal government. Fair also mentioned asking the state's Department of Education as an option since there is an elementary school in Little Milligan that uses water.
   Members decided to discuss the problem again at a meeting in March. Whether or not to bring a plan for a new utility before the county commission will be addressed then.