County residents claim polluted well water

Friday, April 7, 2017
Bill and Carol Dick want the city of Lewisburg to install water lines to serve 18 households on Craig Moore Road, after a test shows possible contamination of their well water.
Tribune Photo by Scott Pearson

All they want is clean water.

The issue seems clear, but leads down a deep well of who is responsible, who is going to pay, and even if there is even any contamination in the first place.

Eighteen households along Craig Moore Road are concerned about possible chemical contamination in the wells they use to provide water for their homes.

They are looking to Lewisburg and the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department for a solution.

Bill and Carol Dick live on Craig Moore Road, close to I-65 on the western border of Marshall County, and have taken the lead in finding a solution. They purchased the 280 acres in 2000 and began living on it full time about eight years ago.

The Dicks convinced the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to test two wells along Craig Moore Road, a shallow well on a neighboring property and a deep well on their land, after reporting a smell and murkiness in their water. A deep well is defined as extending below 800 feet in depth.

The results for the shallow well did not show anything concerning but the Dicks were alarmed by one of the substances that appeared in their deep well sample.

The results showed .000785 milligrams of benzene per liter of water.

Benzene is an organic compound found in petroleum, which is used mainly as a building block in the production of several different types of plastic.

Benzene is also added to gasoline in order to boost the octane rating and to reduce engine knocking, although in 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the amount allowed to one percent to 0.62 percent.

Long-term exposure to benzene is recognized as a cause for certain types of cancer, most often leukemia.

The allowable amount of benzene in drinking water is .005 mg/liter.

The amount is so low, six times under the legal limit, that James Clark, a geologist for TDEC, admits in an email to Lewisburg Water that the reading could be a false positive.

The report also showed levels of chloride and fluoride in the water, that were relatively high but still under the allowable limit. Those readings could be ascribed to the natural geology underground in the area, however, according to the report.

The position of the city is that the road is far outside the boundary of their service area and that it would be unfair to Lewisburg rate payer money to be spent on extending a line so far out in the county.

The county water authority, the Board of Public Utilities, has said that they cannot run a line in between two lines that belong to the city.

Lewisburg Water has lines that run out Mooresville Highway to the south to service the I-65 Commerce Park and along Old Columbia Road to the north of Craig Moore Road that connects to Maury County water systems.

Clark said in an email to Lewisburg Water, that the city “could qualify” for a 50 percent matching grant from TDEC to run approximately two and a half miles of water line along Craig Moore Road.

The Tribune contacted Clark for this story but he referred all questions to TDEC’s Nashville public relations contacts.

The city has set a precedent for such a project however on Craig Moore Road several years ago.

In 2011, while blasting was taking place for the widening of Mooresville Highway, several residents on Craig Moore Road closest to the construction noticed their well water becoming cloudy or discolored.

Reading through the Tribune coverage at the time, Clark apparently identified the problem as coming from an old City of Lewisburg landfill site on Garrett Road, close to Old Columbia Road. That landfill was built before requirements were mandated for lining landfills to prevent groundwater contamination.

Nowhere in the stories at the time does it reference any report determining that the landfill site was the source, especially considering that explosives were being used in the vicinity of the wells.

Nevertheless, the city agreed to run a water line along the southern part of the road from the line on Mooresville Highway. They build roughly 3,200 linear feet of waterline at a total cost close to $86,000.

The line was stopped at the point on the road where well tests showed no problems with water clarity.

The residents north of the end of the line want the city to install a line to service the rest of the road, connecting to the Old Columbia Road line, roughly another 12,000 linear feet.

Using the $27 per linear foot that the 2011 project cost, a new line would run approximately $325,000 in total of which the city would be responsible for half if the grant money was available.

The city says they can’t justify the expense, while the Dicks point to the precedent set by the project.

Frustrated by a lack of progress, the Dicks went to the media for help. WTVF, Channel 5 from Nashville, did a piece on the couple’s predicament.

The report they produced raised hackles in the city because they felt it sensationalized the issue without providing any context or clarifying how low the level of benzene detected was.

Right now, the situation has come to an impasse.

The Dicks and the other residents are concerned about their water and want the city to act.

The city maintains that, regardless of what previous administrations chose to do, no proof of any city responsibility has even been presented and that they cannot justify the expense to their rate payers.

Bill Dick is determined to get water that residents can trust along Craig Moore Road.

“No more meetings. This has come to a head,” Dick said. “This is just starting.”