Officials mark Sevier water advisory lifting

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 11:21 PM

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation hosted an event at the Sevier County Fairgrounds Tuesday afternoon to commemorate the lifting of a water contact advisory for part of the Little Pigeon River in Sevierville, as well as some connected tributaries in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Several local leaders who played a role in efforts to clean the water were in attendance, including Rep. Andrew Farmer, Sen. Doug Overbey, Sen. Steve Southerland, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, Sevierville Mayor Bryan Atchley and Gatlinburg Mayor Jerry Hays, among others.

This is not the end of the efforts to improve water quality in Sevier County, Waters said. The environment is the business of the county, he said, and it’s important for tourists to see that it is OK to swim and fish in the county’s waterways.

“We have more steps to go,” Waters said. “We’re going to take those steps.”

TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau praised the efforts from the three cities, the national park and the state in raising the quality of water in affected areas.

“It took many years to correct the problems, but corrections were made,” Martineau said. “TDEC is proud to be part of it.”

The portion of the Little Pigeon River where the advisory is being lifted is along Highway 66.

Other streams to be de-posted are King Branch and Gnatty Branch along the Spur between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Roaring Fork, Baskins Creek and Holy Branch are to be de-posted in Gatlinburg.

The remaining water contact advisories on the West Prong Little Pigeon River, plus Dudley Creek and Beech Creek, will remain in place while additional testing is performed this summer.

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 health 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, and in multiple tributaries.

Depending on the location, the sources of bacteria were thought to be overflows from municipal sewage treatment facilities and collection systems; the direct connection of household wastewater to streams; and failing, improperly sited and concentrated septic tanks.

The three cities, the county and the National Park Service worked together to identify and resolve problem areas.

The city of Sevierville upgraded its 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 located and eliminated improper sewer connections and leaks from pipes.

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. Additionally, a one-mile section of riding trail was moved away from Duds Branch.

At the end of the event, the local leaders in attendance who played a role in the process of cleaning the water gathered around the sign to collectively remove it.

jold@themountainpress.com