Welcomed Rains Hurt Little River?

By: Stephen McLamb
By: Stephen McLamb

Blount County (WVLT) -- The downpours we saw Thursday across much of East Tennessee are an especially welcome sight if you live or work in Blount County.

The Little River needs all the water it can get.

But according to county experts, the first big rain can sometimes do more harm than good sometimes.

It is true, we do need it, but that first rain brings a lot of unwanted things into an already low Little River.

It's not so much your waste water, but the runoff from oils, tars, and other products that cause the problem.

"Under most conditions, the water leaving the waste water treatment plant is as good or better than the water you would find in the river," said Jack Graham, Maryville's assistant water quality control director.

According to Graham, water pulled from Little River before it goes to the treatment plant typically has a coliform bacteria count of between 500 and a 1000 per milliliter.

"When we are done treating our water for discharge, we typically run between zero and ten, so we are significantly less than what the river is," he said.

In fact, during the drought, the Maryville Water District was treating nearly two million gallons of water less a day because of water restrictions and less leakage in the system.

"All sanitary sewer systems have some leakage and most of the time that leakage is into the system," Graham said. "It's called infiltration and inflow and when the soil gets very dry the amount of that, that occurs, goes down."

"I personally never let my kid get in a stream or the river, particularly after a big rainfall," said Cathy Rhodes, assistant executive director of the Little River Watershed.

Rhodes says runoff poses a much bigger pollution danger during drought.

With the buildup of oil and grease along roadways plus agriculture waste on farms, it's like going a long time without a bath.

"You typically see the bacteria level go up quite a bit, I think, after a period of drought and then a big rain," Rhodes said.

Maryville and Alcoa's waste water discharge has almost no effect on the Little River as it discharges into the Tennessee River off Alcoa Highway at Sky Ranch Airport.

But district water officials like Graham say it can, as the waste water treatment plant is located next to the river.

He says they only dump into the Little River during times of flooding when they have to treat more than their pipeline can handle.


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