State water quality points to pollution control needs

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation report on water quality appears to confirm what some Upper East Tennessee residents already know: When it comes to clean water for drinking and recreational purposes, Carter County is a great place to be.
   With only three streams in the county partially supporting their intended use, the northeast end of the state looks good compared with water quality in other areas.
   TDEC's Division of Water Pollution Control this month issued its draft report on the state's streams and lakes which are "water quality limited" or are expected to exceed water quality standards in the next two years and need more pollution controls.
   The report, known as the Draft 303(d) List 2002, replaces a previous water quality assessment compiled in 1998. Once a stream has been placed on the list, it is considered a priority for water quality improvement efforts.
   The list also points up the importance of a reliable source of clean drinking water, with many of Tennessee Valley Authority's tributary and main-river reservoirs no longer supporting their intended uses due to pollution, siltation, channelization, development, and impacts from urban growth.
   According to the report, in Upper East Tennessee, 4,400 acres of Boone Reservoir in Washington/Sullivan counties are listed as "partially supporting" their designated uses due to PCBs and chlordane from contaminated sediment. Boone also has a fishing advisory posted due to PCBs. Several tributaries are impacted by pathogens.
   "Partially supporting" means water quality is moderately impacted by pollution and that the baseline criteria are exceeded on some frequency.
   In Carter County, 6.4 miles of Doe River, 6.2 miles of Hampton Creek, and 3.8 miles of Shell Creek are partially supporting due to impacts from channelization.
   In Johnson County, 3 miles of Town Creek are affected by suspended solids due to sewage treatment plant bypasses from Mountain City, while 6 miles of Roan Creek suffer from siltation, minor municipal point source releases and pasture grazing.
   In order to reduce the pollutants, TDEC Commissioner Milton J. Hamilton Jr. has issued a commissioner's order outlining cleanup strategy, and a Total Maximum Daily Load for fecal coliform has been approved by EPA, making the streams eligible for delisting.
   Laurel Fork in Carter County, Sinking Creek in Carter/Washington counties, and Knob Creek in Washington County also are eligible to be taken off the list.
   In the Watauga River Basin, Boones Creek and Brush Creek in Washington County are partially supporting. An 18.6 mile area of Boones Creek is affected by siltation and habitat alteration with pollutants attributed to pasture grazing and land development. Brush Creek is impacted by nutrients, siltation and habitat alterations with the source of pollution coming from several areas, including land development and urban runoff.
   A water contact advisory is in effect for Knob Creek (Cash Hollow Creek) in Washington County, which is partially supporting. A maximum daily load for fecal coliform has been developed and approved by EPA.
   The North and South Fork Holston River Basin did not fare as well as the Watauga River Basin. Mercury, which has been historically discharged from Olin in Virginia, according to TDEC, has impacted 6.1 miles of the North Fork in Hawkins/Sullivan counties to the point that, that stream segment no longer supports its intended uses. The North Fork is home to the five-rayed pigtoe and spotfin chub, both on the federal list of endangered aquatic species.
   Madd Branch, Little Creek and Beaver Creek also are not supporting.
   The South Fork Holston River in Sullivan County has 5.5 miles partially supporting designated uses due to flow alterations and thermal modifications from an upstream impoundment. Below Fort Patrick Henry, the river also has been impacted by rapid temperature and flow fluctuations. TVA's tailwater improvements have helped, but not eliminated the problem, according to TDEC. Another 2.4 miles of the South Fork is partially supporting.
   Back Creek, Cedar Creek, Beaver Creek, Transbarger Branch, Reedy Creek and Muddy Creek also are listed as partially supporting.
   Portions of the Nolichucky River in Hamblen, Cocke, Greene, Unicoi, and Washington counties are listed as partially supporting, largely due to siltation and pathogens. The Hamblen/Cocke County segment provides habitat for the federally listed oyster mussel and snail darter. The Appalachian elktoe, which was placed on the endangered list in 1994, also makes its home in the Nolichucky.
   Other partially supporting streams in Unicoi County include Martins Creek, Spring Creek, Scioto Creek, Tate Springs, and North Indian Creek.
   In Greene/Washington County, 17.9 miles of Carson Creek is not supporting due to nitrate, siltation and pathogens from pasture grazing and livestock in the stream.
   Pigeon Creek, Potter Creek, and Puncheon Camp Creek in Greene County are not supporting, along with Hominy Creek in Washington County.
   Nearly a 30-mile stretch of the Pigeon River in Cocke County remains posted against fishing due to dioxin contamination from Blue Ridge (Champion) Paper in Canton, N.C., according to TDEC. Also, color from the paper mill is sometimes still objectionable.
   Several of TVA's main-river reservoirs, including Watts Bar's 39,000 acres, Fort Loudoun's 14,600 acres, and Tellico's 16,500 acres are not supporting and have fishing advisories due to PCB-contaminated sediment. Mercury also is a contaminant of concern at Watts Bar Reservoir.
   Nickajack, another of TVA's main-river reservoirs, is partially supporting due to PCBs and dioxins from contaminated sediment. There also is a precautionary fishing advisory for catfish due to PCBs and dioxin. The federally endangered snail darter has been documented.
   Portions of East Fork Poplar Creek in Roane and Anderson counties are impacted by releases from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities, including K-25, Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Primary pollutants include mercury and PCBs, with a fishing advisory issued due to both contaminants.
   Forty-two miles of the Clinch River and its tributaries in Roane County are impacted by PCBs, chlordane and metals from industrial releases and contaminated sediments, as well as DOE Reservation impacts. The 42-mile section of the Clinch is posted against fishing due to PCBs. Mercury also is a metal of concern.
   Melton Hill Reservoir in Anderson County (5,690 acres) is not supporting due to PCBs and chlordane from contaminated sediment. A fishing advisory has been issued due to the pollutants.