After two tests were conducted in August, state officials reported finding E. coli and other contaminants in the Dry Hollow Water Association’s gravity-fed, surface water system.
“Back up on (Cherokee National Forest) property, there is a concrete box built above ground, and the water that comes down the mountain actually flows over into that box. Then it goes right out into the system. There is no filtration. There is no treatment of any kind. That’s kind of what the problem was,” First Utility District of Carter County Manager Jon Nidiffer said.
The state plans to fine Dry Hollow Water Association incrementally, totaling $52,900, if it does not meet compliance standards within the coming months or close altogether.
State officials estimated the water system serves 92 people, but Dry Hollow Water Association President Kevin Campbell disputed that figure, showing records of it serving just 62 people.
Operating since the 1950s, Campbell said Dry Hollow Water Association collects annual payments from its customers to cover its service, but did not reveal its revenue.
Although E. coli can’t be seen or tasted, Campbell attested, while holding up a clear glass of water Wednesday afternoon, that his unfiltered water has never caused him any illness. The water’s source is the Upper Nidifer Branch creek.
“I’ve lived here for 33 years, and I’ve not had any issues whatsoever with my water,” Campbell said. “It’s just straight water. When we get heavy rains, of course the stream gets up and you get a little bit of sediment at that point in time, but as far as it staying dirty, no.”
Campbell did not want to speak extensively about the matter until his association’s Board of Directors meets Monday to discuss their next steps in addressing the matter.
Department of Environment and Conservation officials were also not available for an interview Wednesday, spokesman Eric Ward said.
Once the E. coli was identified, boil water notices were immediately issued to residents and the state filed its case Oct. 17, marking the second time officials intervened in the water system’s operations.
In 1987, the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board entered an agreement with Dry Hollow Water Association to discontinue operating its water system by March 15, 1987, and if it continued operating as a public water system after April 1, 1987, a civil penalty would be issued.
Back then, the system served 32 connections, defined under state law as a public water supply, which has to abide by state regulations. A private water supply, abiding by no regulations, is defined as serving one to 14 service connections.
According to state records, an individual in the process of buying a home served by the Dry Hollow Water Association contacted the First Utility District of Carter County about the water quality, and after no sampling records were found, the individual approached state officials.
The Department of Environment and Conservation’s Johnson City office began investigating the water system in June, performed tests in August and met with the Dry Hollow Water Association’s representatives on Aug. 29.
A letter was officially mailed on Aug. 24 notifying Dry Hollow Association that its system “appeared to be operating illegally” and explained the actions needed to be in compliance.
“(TDEC) determined that the respondent was performing no water treatment or routine monitoring for turbidity or chemical and pathogenic contaminants and that untreated water from Lower Nidifer Branch was being provided to customers through the distribution system,” the complaint states.
Nidiffer said his engineer is currently looking into the possibility of extending water lines into the Dry Hollow Road area, but that project currently lacks the necessary funding, Nidiffer said inquiries are being made to the United States Department of Agriculture about a loan program that could finance the water line extension.
The Dry Hollow Water Association’s board will meet at the Union Hill Free Will Baptist Church Monday at 7 p.m.