Expanding clean water access is essential

Johnson City Press • Apr 19, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Clean water is something most Americans take for granted in 2018. We simply turn on the kitchen faucet to get a fresh drink, brush our teeth or fill a pot for cooking. We rarely think twice about what’s in that water.

Thankfully, most utilities in our region have not been plagued with contamination like the ongoing lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, or the 1993 parasitic outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that resulted in more than 100 deaths.

Johnson City’s latest water quality report showed the city’s water supply surpassing regulations set by Tennessee and the Environmental Protection Agency. Lead levels, for example, were recorded at 1.2 parts per billion, which is well below the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion.

Not everyone in Northeast Tennessee, though, drinks from a filtered and monitored municipal water supply.

Take for example the illegal water system operating in the Stoney Creek area of Carter County. In October, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation cited the Dry Hollow Water Association for not filtering or monitoring the water it serves directly from a creek to 39 residences. State officials reported finding E. coli and other contaminants. TDEC ordered the association to treat and sample the water, conduct monitoring and hire an engineer.

On Wednesday, TDEC reported that the Dry Hollow group had not complied with the state’s order, and on April 10, a Davidson County court entered a temporary injunction order until a final remedy is in place. The order keeps Dry Hollow under a boil water advisory, prevents any new hookups and forces the association to pay for the installation of a metered tap from the First Utility District of Carter County on one member’s property. All 39 homes would draw from that tap.

It’s good to see TDEC actively working to protect our citizens’ health. Having potable water from a reliable, compliant source is a must.

That’s why last week’s announcement was such good news for people who live in the Ford Creek area of northern Washington County. Johnson City had completed the first phase of its water line extension in a $708,000 joint project with Washington County. Once the entire water line is functional, about 35 existing homes and a number of undeveloped lots could hook up to the city system. Completion is expected in November.

Still, there’s a lot of work to do in Washington County. Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins reported that people along about 200 miles of county roads lack access to system-provided water. Residents must rely on wells and springs, which require home filtration systems and can become contaminated from environmental hazards. So a civil engineering firm is conducting a study related to clean water access in Washington County.

Let’s hope the firm’s report sheds light on what it would take to give all residents the ability to hook up to a monitored, regulated supply of potable water.

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