Tri-Cities area utility on EPA Watch List for water violation - WFLA News Channel 8

Tri-Cities area utility on EPA Watch List for water violation

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TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) -

A Tri-Cities area sewage treatment plant that releases water into a popular area river is on the United States Environmental Protection Agency's "Watch List" for violations of the Clean Water Act.

The plant, operated by Erwin Utilities, is owned by the City of Erwin. The water it treats is released into the Nolichuckey River.

According to the EPA, Erwin Utilities perpetually cannot meet one requirement of the Clean Water Act, and that problem could increase your sewer bill.

News Channel 11 explored Erwin Utilities' chronic problem and found out what they're doing to fix it.

If there is anyone who knows the intricacies of the Nolichuckey River, it is raft guide Laura Callaghan. Through her experience as a raft guide this summer, she has grown to love the river.

"It's absolutely beautiful and has a lot of personality for a river," said Callaghan. "If you don't respect it it's not going to respect you."

In an effort to respect waterways like the Nolichuckey River all over this country, Congress adopted the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Its purpose: to stop pollution in U.S. waters.

However, Erwin's wastewater treatment plant consistently fails to meet one requirement of the act: the reduction of biochemical oxygen demand, or BOD, by 85%.

High BOD levels can kill fish and plants.

"If you do the math, we only have 80% reduction or so. So we're just a little short on meeting on the 85% reduction requirement,"said Matthew Rice, Erwin Utilities' Director of Water and Wastewater.

Rice said the problem is old, leaky sewer pipes, like the ones under the ground on Gay Street. They allow fresh groundwater to mix with the wastewater, which dilutes the water going into the plant.

"You have two different glasses of chocolate milk, one glass has a whole lot of chocolate in it, one glass has a tiny drop of chocolate in it - it's a lot easier to get 85% out of the one that has a whole lot of chocolate in it," said Rice.

To fix the issue, Rice and his team are inspecting the city's sewer lines with cameras to find the leaks and close them.

"It's really just the mathematics of it that we have a low strength coming in. It's hard to clean clean water," said Rice.

The plant is, however, meeting federal rules when it comes to how much BOD is being released into the environment.

"We're meeting our 30 milligrams per liter requirement coming out of the plant. We feel the 85% reduction is a mathematical problem, it's not really a real environmental concern," said Rice.

Rice said the same problem that landed them on the EPA "Watch List" may soon hit customers' wallets.

According to Rice, all the sewer line work means they will probably have to raise rates for Erwin Utilities' customers.


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