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Environment and Conservation Lifts Water Contact Advisory for John Creek and Baker Branch in Trail Fork Big Creek

Thursday, September 19, 2013 | 04:42am

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has lifted a water contact advisory for John Creek and Baker Branch, small tributaries to Trail Fork Big Creek in Cocke County. The water contact advisory for these streams was originally issued in 1996 following a Hepatitis A outbreak in the Del Rio area, along with the discovery of elevated pathogen levels in area streams. While the advisory on several streams was lifted in 2002, the advisory remained in place for John Creek and Baker Branch, which continued to have higher levels.

The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act requires that the department post signs and inform the public when bacteria in water or contaminants in sediment or fish tissue cause public health to be unduly at risk from exposure. In 1996, there was an outbreak of Hepatitis A in the Del Rio area. Because viruses could not be detected with commonly-used test methods at the time, area streams were monitored for fecal coliform bacteria, which were found in elevated levels. The source of the pathogens, and possibly the virus, was thought to be failing septic systems which had contaminated shallow residential wells and area streams. Because of this elevated public health risk, the public was advised to avoid contact with several streams in the Trail Fork Big Creek watershed, including John Creek and Baker Branch.

In response to this public health issue, TDEC and the Tennessee Department of Health worked to assist landowners in correcting septic system problems. Pathogen levels improved in many area streams and the advisory was lifted in 2002 for those streams. Recent sampling has documented that pathogens are low enough in John Creek and Baker Branch that the advisory can be formally removed in these streams also.

TDEC will continue to monitor area streams. Staff will begin the process of removing the posted warning signs in the area.

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