Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau announces the lifting of a water contact advisory of the Little Pigeon River, downstream of Sevierville in Sevier County.
Water contact advisories have also been lifted for several small tributaries to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon, including Gnatty Branch, Baskins Creek, King Branch, Roaring Fork and Holy Branch. The remaining water contact advisories on the West Prong Little Pigeon River, plus Dudley Creek and Beech Creek, will remain in place while additional pathogen testing is performed during the summer of 2014.
“I am pleased to announce that due to the efforts of many people in Sevier County, including state, county, municipal governments and the National Park Service, many of the long-standing water quality issues that led to the original advisory have been resolved,” Mr. Martineau said. “As a result, water quality is greatly improved and the department no longer considers the contact warnings to be necessary. Progress continues on streams that need additional improvement.”
The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act requires that the department 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 1993, elevated fecal coliform levels were found in the Little Pigeon River downstream of Sevierville, the West Prong Little Pigeon downstream of Gatlinburg and within Pigeon Forge, plus multiple tributaries. The sources of the bacteria were thought to be, depending on the location, overflows from municipal sewage treatment facilities and collection systems, failing, improperly-sited and concentrated septic tanks and the direct connection of household wastewater to streams.
Once these problems were identified, local city and county officials took the lead in identifying and resolving problem areas. The City of Sevierville upgraded their sewage treatment plant and moved the outfall from the Little Pigeon River to the French Broad River, a much larger body of water. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg worked to locate and eliminate improper sewer connections and leaks from pipes. State and county officials walked streams to look for “straight pipes” of household wastes into streams and to spot septic tanks in need of rehabilitation.
Since some impacted portions of the West Prong and its tributaries were within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service was very active in the process to plan and implement the monitoring of pathogen levels. With assistance from the City of Gatlinburg, the Park Service worked with the Dudley Creek Stable concessionaire to install a new wash rack for the horses and connect it to the Gatlinburg sewer system. In addition, they moved a one-mile section of riding trail away from Duds Branch.
An event will be held April 29, at 4:30 p.m. in Sevierville to celebrate the lifting of the water contact advisories. The event, which will be attended by Commissioner Martineau and local officials from Sevier County, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the National Park Service, will be held at the Sevier County Fairgrounds in Sevierville. In case of rain, the event will be moved to the red barn located at the fairgrounds.