People living in one Grundy County town have been under a strict "no contact" order with its main waterway, but after more than a decade, it's changed.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has been working with federal state and local crews to cleanup the water contaminated with sewage in Tracy City.
The Little Fiery Gizzard Creek is the main waterway that cuts through Tracy City and Grundy State Forest. Officials say they knew there were problems with it back in 1999 when folks started complaining of a bad smell and their kids getting sick after playing in it.
"This is a public health issue," TDEC's Dr. Richard Urban said.
When they discovered raw sewage was dumping into the creek, they posted signs and held public meetings to warn everyone to stay away from the water all together.
"To have the water clean is something, I guess people take for granted," Friends of South Cumberland's Mary Priestley said.
With fecal contamination, anyone touching it was at risk for getting sicknesses like Ecoli and Strep to parasites, and dysentery. Officials then tracked the source of the sewage.
"We found out the waste water treatment plant for the elementary school was overloaded," Dr. Urban said.
So they partnered with the town of Monteagle to run a new sewage line there from the school. But, then they discovered the problem stretched beyond that.
"All the businesses and residences were on septic tanks in Tracy City at that time and they were all contributing,"' Dr. Urban said.
That made the sewage project much more extensive and kept the creek closed year after year.
"It was a bad stigma," Dr. Urban said.
It affected tourism numbers for Grundy State Forest. Residents just got used to it.
"It became a handicap but once everybody was made aware of it, it was more or less something you just couldn't do anymore," Tracy City Mayor Larry Phipps said.
Friday, after thirteen years and over $1 million later, the signs are coming down.
The sewage system was completed two years ago. Friday's water tests show the water has finally rebounded and there are no more traces of contamination.
"Telling the world this is a good place for you to come away from the city to where it's clean, fresh and pristine," Priestley said.
"It took several different mayors, different council people, but they kept the vision and that's the important thing," Dr. Urban said.
Local leaders say they're starting the process of notifying the public that Little Fiery Gizzard Creek is safe to swim and fish in.
Tuesday, April 22 2014 3:13 PM EDT2014-04-22 19:13:27 GMT
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