Work progressing on Carter County water projects

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The office of Rural Development in Greeneville is seeking public comment on an Environmental Assessment which evaluates potential impact from Carderview Utility District's proposed upgrade of its water treatment system in Butler.
   Vernon Kirk of Rural Development said Carderview has submitted an application for a $115,000 loan grant to fund the project.
   "They've got to do some work at their filter plant -- their water source -- to bring it into compliance. They originally had scheduled to replace some existing lines and we went ahead and just put that in the environmental (assessment) right now. But under current funding the lines will not be replaced at this time," Kirk said.
   Carderview has one of two existing slow-sand filters in the state of Tennessee, built years ago by Tennessee Valley Authority. The slow sand pools, which are built of layers of rock, coal and sand, need to be replaced, according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
   The Division of Water Pollution Control has ordered the utility to replace the media and cover the basins, which currently are uncovered and subject to airborne contamination.
   Kirk said Carderview applied for Community Development Block Grant funding but was turned down.
   "So they had to scale it back to what they could pay for," he said. Rural Development has submitted a funding package to the state office in Nashville for final review and approval.
   "Hopefully, we'll be able to deliver the letter of admission on that funding very shortly, within the next week to 10 days, maybe," Kirk said.
   The project calls for replacing some existing water lines, providing an emergency backup source by connecting to the Mountain City water system via a new 8-inch line which would run along State Route 67, and constructing an office building. Water lines proposed for replacement are located on Piercetown Road, Scott Street, McQueen Street and the line from the tank.
   "I think they planned to use some of the prison labor to replace some of the sand and media in the filters. They've got to put a building over the filters just to bring it into compliance with TDEC," Kirk said.
   The Rural Utilities Service said an Environmental Impact Statement will not be prepared because an assessment of potential environmental effects on humans found no significant impact.
   According to a published notice required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the project will take place on existing or adjacent rights of way and will not affect important farmland soils.
   Upgrades in existing water lines will be made near existing infrastructure so construction will be adjacent to earth previously disturbed. Some residential areas will be minimally affected by construction work, however, traffic generated by construction is not expected to have a significant impact due to the area's small traffic volume.
   Copies of the Environmental Assessment are available for review or may be obtained at the Rural Development Office, 214 N. College St., Suite 300, Greeneville. For more information, contact Charles Brooks, Rural Development manager, at (423) 638-4771, extension 4.
   Mountain City, which also has been plagued by water problems, has a withdrawal permit for George Lowe Spring in Doe Valley. A pre-final inspection was scheduled to be conducted Thursday, Kirk said.
   "If all of the testing is done ... release should be coming very shortly. With George Lowe Spring coming on, they should be in pretty good shape, but I understand the prison is probably going to put a third more inmates up there and that takes a lot of water. The amount of withdrawal from George Lowe is limited due to environmental concerns, but that is beautiful water since they have reworked the spring. It really looks good."
   Mountain City will make limited withdrawals in the evenings, he said. The city also must construct a million-gallon storage reservoir and a line from the water treatment plant near Doe Valley Elementary School to the reservoir.
   "It's going to take probably six months to get that built," he said. "It will supply the lower end and maybe get some back up to the prison. They can't get it up to the town, but every little bit will help. They're in a little better shape than they were, but come next summer, they're going to be right back in the same boat if they don't get this water."
   Kirk said a preliminary engineering report also is expected to be completed soon for the Fish Springs area. Fish Springs, which is situated between Hampton and Carderview Utility Districts, currently does not have a reliable source of drinking water. Instead, water is obtained from springs, wells or surface water runoff from the mountains.
   Tysinger, Hampton and Partners, a civil engineering firm from Johnson City, volunteered in December to do the engineering report at no cost to residents, many of whom have low incomes or are below the poverty level.
   "It normally takes three to four months to get those done if they do a good job on it. They should be getting close to figuring out what the costs are going to be," Kirk said.
   Fish Springs residents will not be able to tap on to utility water for at least seven years if funding can be found. In the interim, Kirk said, if residents could install a 250,000 gallon plastic tank at one of the springs, they could collect and store the water and not have to wait hours for it to dribble out, as many are now doing.
   "It's not going to meet TDEC requirements but at least the people would have some water. That's what they're drinking now. It couldn't be any worse," Kirk said.
   "We've had so much of the well water going bad with E-coli. Evidently, with the drought, underground water is being pulled in and recharged from different areas and is pulling in E-coli and contaminating a lot of wells."
   Jim Burrough of Carter County Emergency Management Agency donated approximately 1,000 gallons of bottled water to Fish Springs residents in December when temperatures dipped below freezing and residents were unable to obtain water from the spring at Smith Hollow.
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson, Deputy John Henson Jr., and members of the sheriff's department work gang hauled water to Little Milligan Elementary School where Principal J.R. Campbell set up a distribution center for Fish Springs and Elk Mills residents.
   "The good thing about that was that it was on hand. Somebody would call and say, 'I'm down to three or four gallons,' and like if it was on a Sunday, I could take them out like 20 gallons to get them through a few days," Campbell said.
   One day it was cold and slick and an Elk Mills' family came by and got water, Campbell said. "That was the only time that the spring in Smith Hollow was frozen over. We've been lucky. It's not been froze over this winter, or you talk about a horrible mess ..."
   Campbell hauled water to elderly residents in the community and left some at area stores to be distributed free of charge to those who were without.
   "We were afraid that it was going to get bad, and I knew that if they had this water on hand and it got cold and their water lines froze up, then they wouldn't have to get out. I was afraid they would break a hip or something. If you've a box of water there, thanks to John Henson, it makes you feel good," Campbell said.
   Rural Development's Kirk said, "People don't really realize how dry we've been, and the effect on the water table. We get 14 inches of rain and 13-1/2 of it runs off down the stream."
   Kirk said much water work needs to be done in Carter County. "Somebody is going to need to come up with new ways to solve it and help each other out and get by.
   "Growing up, I didn't think we would ever have a problem with drinking water. But just in the last few years, it has become a limiting factor," he said.