County streams make TDEC water quality list

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will hold a public meeting tonight at Sycamore Shoals State Park to discuss the 303(d) List -- a statewide assessment of water quality ranking streams and lakes that fail to meet one or more water quality standards.
   Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act requires TDEC to make a list of Tennessee surface waters that do not meet water quality standards. The list is subject to review and approval by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
   The 303(d) List is a compilation of the streams and lakes in Tennessee that are "water quality limited" or are expected to exceed water quality standards in the next two years and need additional pollution controls. Water quality limited streams are those that have one or more properties that violate water quality standards. They are considered impaired by pollution and not fully meeting designated uses.
   "These identified streams would become priorities for future water quality improvement efforts, so it is vital that we receive public input on the development of the 303(d) List," said Paul Davis, director for the state Division of Water Pollution Control.
   Several Carter County streams are ranked on the 2004 draft list while two other waterways cited for pollution deposits connected to the county's flooding in January 1998 have been removed from the list.
   Included on the draft list is a 10-mile portion of Sinking Creek running through Carter and Washington counties. TDEC lists Sinking Creek as a Category 5 stream meaning the waterway is impaired from one or more uses. The list reports fecal coliform NA Discharges from grazing of livestock have polluted the creek.
   A warning sign at a bridge crossing Sinking Creek in western Carter County warns against swimming or fishing in the stream, which is listed on the EPA's 303(d) List.
   The 303(d) List identifies waters suitable for total maximum daily load (TMDL) and thermal load calculations. TMDLs are developed to define the levels of pollution control that would be needed for protection of public health, aquatic life, and recreation. The priority ranking reflects the uses to be made of such waters, the severity of pollution, and the feasibility of control strategies.
   A TMDL study quantifies the amount of a pollutant in a stream, identifies the sources of the pollutant, and recommends regulatory or other actions that may need to be taken in order for the stream to no longer be polluted.
   The assessment of Tennessee's waters was based on a water quality evaluation that took place during 2003 and early 2004. Water quality data collected at hundreds of streams in Tennessee were compared to existing water quality criteria.
   Fifty-four percent of the Watauga River Watershed lies in Carter County with 25 percent in Johnson County. The Watauga Watershed drains approximately 614 square miles in Tennessee and drains to Boone Reservoir. The entire watershed drains approximately 816 square miles. There are 1,039 stream miles and 6,499 lake acres recorded in River Reach File 3 in the Tennessee portion of the Watauga River Watershed.
   Campbell Branch, Davis Branch and Gap Branch are included on the 2004 303(c) List. All three streams are Category 5 with high priority designation given each as the result of alterations to streamside or vegetation near the waterway.
   Shifts in streamside and vegetation caused by pollutants also affect Sink Creek, Goose Creek, and Furnace Creek in Johnson County.
   In Johnson County, pasture grazing by livestock put two sections of Roan Creek on the list while a section of Campbell Creek was identified with as a low-priority listing the presence of E. coli bacteria attributed to septic tanks and livestock grazing.
   TDEC reported Shell Creek and the Doe River in Carter County were removed from the 2004 list after water reassessments conducted by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2001. Both waterways suffered "channelization" in 1998 when massive flooding hit Carter County in the Roan Mountain and Hampton areas.
   Once a stream has been placed on the 303(d) List, it is considered a priority for water quality improvement efforts. These efforts include traditional regulatory approaches such as permit issuance, but also include efforts to control pollution sources that have historically been exempted from regulations, such as certain agricultural and forestry activities.
   The department held the first of 14 planned public meetings in Jackson on June 28. Tonight's meeting is one of two planned for the Tri-Cities area. The second meeting will take place Tuesday afternoon in Kingsport at Warriors Path State Park.