The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has lifted a 13-year water contact advisory for Little Fiery Gizzard Creek and several of its tributaries in the Tracy City, Tn. area of Grundy County. TDEC Deputy Commissioner Dr. Shari Meghreblian presided over Friday’s ceremonial “de-posting” announcing the advisory lift and was joined by Senator Janice Bowling, Representative Charles Curtiss, Tracy City Mayor Larry Phipps, and Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Nixon, along with other local elected officials and members of the community.
The water contact advisory was originally issued in 2000 due to operational problems at a small wastewater treatment facility at the Tracy City Elementary School and the presence of failing septic tanks at individual homes.
“This is great news for Grundy County and today’s announcement is due to the efforts of many individuals and organizations, including both state and local governments, to expand sewer service into areas of Tracy City,” said Dr. Meghreblian. “Connecting homes, the elementary school and various businesses to the sewer service has resulted in decreased pathogen levels in the Little Fiery Gizzard watershed and TDEC believes the public warning to avoid contact with the water is no longer necessary.”
The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act requires that TDEC post signs and inform the public when bacteria in water or contaminants in sediment or fish tissue cause public heath to be unduly at risk from exposure. In 1999, elevated fecal coliform levels were found in Little Fiery Gizzard Creek, a tributary to Big Fiery Gizzard Creek. The elevated levels of bacteria were of particular concern because of the potential that children could come in contact with these streams within Tracy City. Additionally, there is a popular swimming area on the Little Fiery Gizzard within South Cumberland State Park, just downstream of the city.
Additional sampling in 1999 documented that pathogen levels in the state park were safe, but were elevated upstream in Tracy City. Because of this elevated risk, the public was advised to avoid contact with Little Fiery Gizzard and several tributaries within Tracy City and signs were posted in early 2000.
In response to this public health issue, Tracy City and Monteagle officials accelerated negotiations for a connection between the two cities so that sewage from Tracy City could be transported to and treated at the Monteagle facility. In 2010, the sewer was expanded beyond the elementary school, and businesses and homes were connected to the new sewer system. Repairs to existing sewer lines were also completed.
In 2010 and 2011, TDEC documented reduced pathogen levels in Tracy City-area streams and will continue to monitor the area. In the meantime, staff has begun the process of removing the posted warning signs in the area.
Last year, TDEC announced that the seven-year sewer connection moratorium for the town of Monteagle had been lifted due to major improvements made to the town’s wastewater treatment plant and collection system and the town’s ability to meet the requirements of an Agreed Order issued in January 2005.
In September 2009, Monteagle received $6.2 million through Tennessee’s State Revolving Fund loan program and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars to begin infrastructure improvements. The project was funded with a 20-year, $3.72 million loan with an interest rate of 1.79 percent. Forty percent of the funding was in the form of principal forgiveness, which does not have to be repaid.
As a result of this funding and the town’s aggressive and consistent approach to resolving issues, Monteagle began operation of its Wastewater Treatment Plant #3 in December 2011. With the capacity of 500,000 gallons per day, 90 percent of the town’s infiltration and inflow has been removed from its collection system. In addition, manholes were replaced and all of the old sewer lines were eliminated. As part of Monteagle’s overall improvements, local plant operators have implemented a Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance Plan and a Sewer Overflow Response Plan. Both Wastewater Treatment Plants #1 and #2 have been removed from service.
With more than 2,900 employees working across the state, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is a diverse and dynamic department, serving the state by (1) safeguarding the health and safety of Tennessee citizens from environmental hazards; (2) protecting and improving the quality of Tennessee's land, air and water; and (3) managing Tennessee’s 54 state parks, 83 natural areas and a variety of historical or archaeological sites. For more information about the department, please visit www.tn.gov/environment.