In January more than 13 inches of rain fell in Morristown. All of that precipitation is bringing a longtime sewage and wastewater problem back to the surface near Cherokee Lake.
"This is Spring Creek and it is beautiful," said Jerry Kloos, president of the Spring Creek Homeowners Association. "It's just a shame the water is being polluted."
The water in Spring Creek smells normal and looks crystal clear, but there are obvious signs the water is not fine. Posted signs line the creek warning people to avoid contact with the water due to contamination from sewer system overflow.
"They [the City of Morristown] put up signs along the creek and put signs on our doorknobs telling us not to go in the water. Anytime there is heavy rain, it's a problem," said Kloos. "It actually just spews out of these raised manholes. Then there are a couple of streams of what is wastewater and raw sewage mixed together going into Spring Creek which then goes into the Cherokee Lake."
A couple of the more drastic sewage spills occurred in the last two years when power was cut to the pump house along Spring Creek. In June 2011 a power outage at the pump station caused sewage to overflow into the lake. TDEC subsequently ordered a study of the Morristown sewage plant. On Labor Day of 2012 a car wreck caused another power failure at the pump station and untreated sewage spilled into the creek and lake.
Even when the pumps are fully operational, contamination from the wastewater is a longtime issue during heavy rains. In 2009 TDEC ordered Morristown to develop a long-term solution to rehabilitate the wastewater collection system.
So far TDEC says Morristown has followed the 2009 order and met all deadlines. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. The order required the city to develop a two-phase solution to remedy the system's inability to handle heavy rainfall. A proposal for Phase II of the collection system remedy is due to TDEC by March 15, 2013.
Morristown must monitor the water quality and notify the public when contamination levels reach unsafe levels. Until the long-term fix is in place, Kloos said he will avoid much of the natural beauty that surrounds his home.
"We don't swim in the lake anymore. We don't eat the fish in the lake. It's an environmental problem that has to be solved," said Kloos.
Reporter's Note: A pdf of the 2009 TDEC order for Morristown is attached to this article. Mobile users may need to navigate to the full website in order to view the pdf.