Several residents living atop English Mountain in Sevier County say they have been without water for nearly a week after a series of water line breaks disrupted their water supply last Thursday.
In the meantime, some residents have been forced to pull water from nearby ponds and creeks despite paying costly water bills.
Jerry Hayes counts himself lucky. He lives near a dip in the mountain, and said the drainage from the water lines above him does still allow for small amounts of low-pressure water. Still, he said his water access is insufficient for daily hygiene.
"You can't take a shower, you can't wash your clothes. I had to get a bottle of water and put it in a bowl to get cleaned up today,” Hayes said.
Other families have had no water access at all. Without access to the water system, several residents told 10News they have had to fill up buckets of pondwater to flush their toilets. Others had been unable to properly bathe for several days.
“A lot of good neighbors that stay here both full-time and part-time, a lot of them are already heading back home early, cutting their vacation short,” Hayes said. “Where they normally spend the whole summer with us, they’re leaving because they have been out of water for about seven days now.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the East Sevier County Utility District issued a boil advisory to urge all of its customers, including those with water access, to boil their water.
"Due to water outages, we have reason to suspect that the water distributed to the customers of the East Sevier County Utility District may be contaminated," the advisory said. "Until further notice, water customers are advised to boil water prior to using it for drinking or food preparation."
Janice Brooks-Headrick is a commissioner for the East Sevier County Utility District’s Water Board. She said the company has had maintenance issues with its water system before, but those problems had mostly subsided in the last few years – until crews discovered a large water line break on Friday.
"It took them until 7 p.m. that night and they fixed it. Got up the next morning -- another break," Brooks-Headrick said.
The East Sevier County Utility District services 258 customers, charging a minimum rate of $97.25 per month.
Brooks-Headrick, who is a customer herself, said the high water rates go toward the costly price of labor, equipment and maintenance.
"We are doing everything we can with the income we’ve got. There's very little to spare," she said.
Brooks-Headrick said water lines run from five wells, through a filtering system, into storage tanks to be delivered into homes. Those lines were first installed in 1972, but she said replacing them entirely could cost millions the company cannot afford.
She said two years ago, the company was approved for a $2 million rural development grant from the federal government that would cover the cost of adding a new pipeline, replacing a well and replacing filters, as well as engineering costs. However, the company is still waiting for those funds to come through.
In the meantime, crews are working to repair broken water lines. On Monday, they also installed a new well and, in accordance with state law, are collecting water samples before it goes operational.
Brooks-Headrick said she hoped that well would be fully operational by Friday.
However, many neighbors are dubious.
“You get told ‘cry wolf’ so many times, you quit believing that the wolf is coming,” said Hayes.
He is among many residents collecting signatures for a petition to request that another utility company, either in Sevier or Cocke counties, take over their water service.