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EPA says JC drinking water A-OK

Gary B. Gray • Jul 8, 2014 at 10:32 PM

Johnson City’s drinking water meets or surpasses strict regulations required by both the state of Tennessee and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agencies require all water suppliers to provide annual reports to each customer, and the report covering 2013 comes with a clean bill of health.

Johnson City relies on water from the Watauga River and Unicoi Springs. The Watauga and the Unicoi plants treat the city’s water supply using filtration and disinfection to remove or reduce harmful contaminants in the source water. A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Source Water Assessment determined the Watauga River is highly susceptible, while the Unicoi Springs are moderately susceptible.

“There’s really no reason for concern because the word ‘susceptible’ is used,” said Jeff Corder, water/wastewater superintendent. “Our intake is downstream (Watauga River) from business and industry, but we don’t own the watershed from which we draw the water.

“People outside Johnson City need to realize that if there are water-quality issues outside our scope, we would have to report that. Of the roughly 20 years we’ve been doing these, we’ve not had to report any state or federal violations.”

Corder said city employees test for certain contaminants on a daily basis, including bacteria that may come from livestock or septic systems and inorganic compounds, such as salts and metals, oils and pesticides.

Drinking water, including bottled water, is generally known to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants, but this does not necessarily indicate the water poses a health risk, Corder said.

“Most of the things we deal with are naturally occurring,” he said. “These normally show up after heavy rains.”

He is referring, in part, to coliform bacteria, which is present in the environment and feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. Other microbial contaminants come from turbidity. This is a measure of how much the material suspended in water decreases the passage of light through the water, including soil particles and other substances. Organic carbon is another naturally occurring substance. This category includes material derived from decaying vegetation, bacterial growth, and metabolic activities of living organisms or chemicals.

Johnson City operates both water and sewer infrastructure inside the city limits and in portions of four counties outside the city limits. Each year, the city’s Water and Sewer Service Department treats more than 5 billion gallons of potable water and processes over 4 billion gallons of wastewater.

The department’s facilities include two drinking water treatment plants; three wastewater treatment plants; 89 water storage reservoirs and booster stations; 101 wastewater lift stations; 932 miles of waterlines; and, 652 miles of wastewater collection lines.

The department routinely conducts inspections for cross connections between a customer’s service and the public water supply to protect water quality. A cross connection is a direct arrangement of plumbing that allows the potable water supply to be connected to a line that contains a contaminant or non-potable water. Your plumbing and decorative fountains or irrigation systems, for example.

Johnson City’s drinking water also is tested every three years for unsafe levels of copper, fluoride and lead. Minute levels were detected in 2011. But the numbers, measured in parts per billion (ppb), far exceeded state and federal guidelines and were well under the threshold which would have required action.

Johnson City’s Source Water Assessment can be viewed on the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation website at www.tn.gov/environment/water/water-supply_source-assessment.shtml.

Information about contaminants and potential health effects can be obtained by calling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

For more information about the drinking water, call Matt Holtsclaw, chief water plant operator, at 975-2646 or 975-2648.

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