Editorial: Efforts to decontaminate local waterways are succeeding

Apr. 23, 2014 @ 11:26 PM

With the Smoky Mountains' natural beauty, it's no wonder millions of visitors pour into the area each year to catch a glimpse of the often awe-inspiring views.

While they are here, tourists spend money at our stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions, helping to finance our infrastructure, schools and government and allowing us to keep our property taxes among the state's lowest.

Often, however, guests are disturbed to find that our Great Smoky Mountains and the surrounding rivers and streams have underlying environmental issues beneath their surface beauty.

Could you imagine, for instance, driving hundreds of miles with your family and buying a non-resident, one-day fishing license, only to find out that the pristine-looking stream near your rental cabin was unsafe to fish in?

Fortunately, it's a problem that seems to be declining, according to a recent report from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau announced this week the lifting of a water contact advisory for the Little Pigeon River, downstream from Sevierville in Sevier County, as well as the lifting of contact advisories in several small tributaries to the West Prong of the Little Pigeon, including Gnatty Branch, Baskins Creek, King Branch, Roaring Fork and Holy Branch.

“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,” 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.”

It's a testament to the work some have put in to fix an embarrassing problem — fecal containments in the water.

"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," TDEC said.

"Once these problems were identified," the organization continued, "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."

The corrections were needed, and they were made. While there's still a long way to go to make many of our local waterways suitable for human contact, the right thing has been done in this situation, and kudos goes to those involved in being a part of the solution.

An event will be held April 29 at 4:30 p.m. in Sevierville to celebrate the lifting of the water contact advisories, TDEC noted. Local officials from Sevier County, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the National Park Service will be at the event, located at the Sevier County Fairgrounds.