Drought empties springs, leaving 38 families without water

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Dry Hollow community of upper Stoney Creek is living up to its name.
   Thirty-eight residents of the Dry Hollow area have been without running water since Friday when two springs that feed the community's water supply dried up, said Gary Eggers, resident and officer in the community's water cooperative.
   "We've had this water system since 1951," said Eggers, a Dry Hollow Road resident. "I've lived here since 1972, and to my knowledge this is the first time it's ever went dry."
   The area's water supply is fed by two springs with two reservoirs of 1,000 gallons and 1,500 gallons, said Eggers.
   The barren creek bed that meanders along Dry Hollow Road near Muddy Branch Road was filled with rock and branches, but no water as of Wednesday.
   City of Elizabethton code enforcement officer Captain Tom Bowers said Eggers had contacted him about the situation on Monday. Although a city employee, Bowers said he initiated a move to get drinking water to the area.
   When the city's water supply experienced high turbidity during localized flooding last year, the Tennessee National Guard sent a tractor-trailer loaded with drinking water, said Bowers.
   "We still had some left stockpiled at the old ice plant. We've only got as much left as we shipped up this morning," he said. "If people need drinking water and I have some at my disposal, they're sure going to get it."
   The Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department had provided a pumper truck to allow customers to use their toilets on Tuesday night, said Eggers.
   Sheriff John Henson said Wednesday he had been contacted by Bowers about the situation. The sheriff's department arranged to have 800 gallons of bottled drinking water delivered to Dry Hollow residents early Wednesday afternoon, said Henson.
   "The fire department has been pumping them water to flush toilets, but they didn't have any drinking water," said Henson.
   The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) had been in contact with county officials including Emergency Management Director Jim Burrough about the problem, said Bob Swabe, regional director for TEMA's East Tennessee region in Alcoa.
   Swabe also said the agency could not provide drinking water to citizens by the commonly referred to "water buffalo" tankers due to sanitation concerns.
   "We can't supply drinking water through the water buffalos or tankers because of the contamination problem," he said.
   The spring system is not classified as a public water system by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to the small number of customers, said Eggers.
   The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation classifies community and non-community public water systems (PWS) based on the number of connections and gallons of water produced each day.
   A community PWS serves at least 15 service connections used by year-round residents or regularly serves at least 25 year-round residents, according to TDEC's definition.
   "In September is when we usually run into trouble if we're going to," said Gay Irwin, manager for the division of water supply with TDEC's office in Johnson City. "Typically, it is water systems that are dependent on ground water sources that experience trouble."
   The National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration's (NOAA) Palmer Drought Index reported that Northeast Tennessee is 2 to 2.9 inches below normal rainfall totals through Aug. 10. That number puts the area in a moderate drought condition.
   Just across the border in North Carolina, the counties of Ashe, Avery and Watauga are rated under extreme drought conditions by the Palmer Index with rainfall totals up to 4 inches below normal for the year.
   "We won't have any water until it rains," said Eggers. "If it doesn't rain soon, there's going to be a lot of other people in this county in the same shape."
   Bowers said citizens or businesses interested in donating water for Dry Hollow residents water relief may bring water supplies to the Elizabethton City Hall.