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Little Limestone no longer recipient of discharge

Oct. 1 marked a significant day for wastewater treatment in Jonesborough and the town’s Little Limestone Creek.
“On Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 2 p.m., Jonesborough’s (treated wastewater discharge) was switched from Little Limestone Creek to the Nolichucky River,” explained Hugh Thomason, Jonesborough’s director of environmental services.
According to town officials, this long-planned implementation of a new line allowing the town to discharge into the Nolichucky River, rather than Little Limestone Creek, not only means better health for the creek, but it also leaves Jonesborough well equipped to service its current customers and poised for future growth.
“It was a two-prong attack,” explained Town Administrator Bob Browning of Jonesborough’s wastewater treatment plan. New sewer lines and line repair means less infiltration and inflow — a process by which ground- and stormwater gets into septic lines and waters down the sewage, making it more difficult to treat.
The town’s new wastewater treatment plant, also part of phase I and completed in November, means greater capacity and cleaner treated water.
And the new line to the Nolichucky — phase II — now means increased protection in case of excessive rains or floodlike conditions.
Thomason admits to having an almost immediate feeling of concern whenever he hears raindrops on the roof. For an ill-prepared system, he explained, rain can be like the monster that lurks in the dark.
In the old system, poor drainage and faulty pipes meant rainwater would pour into the wastewater treatment system, pushing it beyond capacity.
Beyond capacity meant possible spillovers. Spillovers meant untreated sewage reaching waterways.
In addition, there were the purely economic consequences. “It costs the same amount of money to treat one gallon of rainwater as sewer water,” Thomason said.
By reducing inflow and infiltration, Little Limestone’s condition was already improving, according to Browning.
But, as an extra precaution in case of problems, there were still state limits on the amount of discharge allowed into a waterway the size of Little Limestone Creek.
To increase capacity and ensure the potential for future growth, the state said the town would have to discharge into the Nolichucky.
But Thomason admits that seemed impossible on the surface. “Even at the state level, they never thought we’d be at the river,” he said.
Little Limestone Creek’s status has been on the rise even before the switch was made last week, according to Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe.
“When I was first elected in 2008, one of the most serious problems was the state of the sewer system,” Wolfe said.
“Jimmy Hall, who lives along Little Limestone Creek, took us into his backyard. It had discolored algae and a very, very bad smell.”
Wolfe said he met with Hall last week, “and he couldn’t have been happier.” There were already minnows in the creek and wildlife was returning.
While Jonesborough’s wastewater treatment problems can’t completely account for Little Limestone Creek’s place on Tennessee’s 303(d) list of endangered waters, the new water line at least removes one potential hazard.
“It will be a new chapter for that little creek,” Wolfe said.