Chattanooga, TN – State officials ignored evidence that water from Carson Spring is regularly contaminated by bacteria and not fit for public use without filtration, according to a complaint filed by Jack McCormick, the former manager of the regional field office for the drinking water program of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).
According to McCormick, who is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the state Water Quality Control Board in Nashville, the water from the Carson Spring source near Chattanooga had been declared Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water since 1994, an official designation that disallows public distribution without controls such as filtration because the water is susceptible to surface pollution.
In 1999 TDEC officials ordered the designation overturned, in a decision favorable to Savannah Valley Utility District, who recently leased the wells to begin commercial production. Avoiding the installation of filtration equipment saves the utility significant money – perhaps as much as $2 million- but at the risk of public health, according to the complaint. The unfiltered water began flowing into the public system last month.
To overturn the designation, McCormick notes, TDEC relied on a single water quality sample provided by Savannah Valley itself in November 1998, despite other conflicting results from tests conducted by TDEC water quality specialists and the utility. An internal TDEC memo indicates that the agency was aware that Savannah Valley only submitted test results that supported their claim that water from Carson Springs was pure.
The memo, written by a former TDEC staffer in 1999, states that water samples taken by Savannah Valley the previous December (1998) were never included into the record, and that these samples showed “significantly more organic particulate” than officially recognized.
“TDEC’s decision to allow this water to be put out to the public without additional treatment is disturbing,” said Barry Sulkin, director of Tennessee PEER and a former TDEC compliance chief. “By ignoring warnings from their own experts, the agency is opening itself up to liability down the road.”
Surface-influenced groundwater runs a much greater risk ofcontaining Giardia and Cryptosporidium,two microscopic parasites that serious illnesses in humans. The Carson Spring lies adjacent to the Wolftever Creek embayment of Chickamauga Lake where there is a known population of beavers, a common carrier of Giardia.
The Water Quality Control Board hearing is scheduled to begin at 10am (CT) on the 17th floor of the TDEC headquarters in the L & C Tower at the corner of 4th Ave. and Church Street in Nashville. This case is expected to begin around 11 am.
Copies of the documents noted are available on request.