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Elizabethton Water Resources Department overcomes flooding of Big Springs water source

John Thompson • Updated Mar 1, 2019 at 12:02 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Thanks to a long week by Elizabethton’s Water Resources Department workers and employees of the wastewater treatment plant, the city has overcome problems triggered by last week’s flooding.

“They did a great job,” said Johann Coetzee, general manager of water resources for the city.

Coetzee said the problem began when the Big Springs water treatment plant was flooded. Big Springs is the primary source of water for the west end of the city’s water system. Fortunately, that is the section closest to Johnson City, and the Johnson City Water Department was willing to sell water to Elizabethton during the emergency.

With Johnson City providing water to the west end of the system, Elizabethton was also moving water westward from the center of its operations. The city relied on an agreement with the Watauga River Regional Water Authority to sell more water to Elizabethton to help balance the water being pulled from the east side of town.

Coetzee said that created a delicate balancing act as water department crews worked tirelessly to maintain that balance, shifting water from places where there was more than enough to areas where the water levels were dropping, and keeping the city water tanks at the right levels.

Because of the introduction of treated water from Johnson City and the Watauga River Regional Water Authority and the way the Elizabethton water system’s balance was maintained, Coetzee said there was never a threat to the safety of the public water and no boil-water notice was required.

Coetzee said the work was prolonged because of turbidity in the Big Springs treatment plant. Once Big Springs water clarity was back to acceptable standards, the water source was brought back on line and the need to buy additional water ended.

Another problem had to be addressed by the wastewater treatment plant. Because of leaky sewer lines, rainwater flows into the sewer system during every rainstorm. With the grounds already saturated and several days of rain expected, this was far from typical weather,

The city’s system is designed with an equalization basin, which can hold up to 3.86 million gallons of storm flow until water levels return to normal and the treatment plant can work the excess. There was more stormwater than the treatment plant’s capacity last week. Coetzee said in those situations, the storm runoff is mixed with treated wastewater and released.

Coetzee said the runoff stored in the equalization basin should be completely treated on Thursday, providing new rainstorms don’t add to the burden.

Coetzee said the city is awaiting word from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency on any disaster relief the city’s water systems may be qualified to receive, such as the emergency purchase of water.

Elizabethton is one of 26 water systems across the state that were adversely affected by the storm.

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