’Wells eventually run dry’: Fears raised over water quality with incoming Lincoln County chicken houses

Fears raised over water quality with incoming Lincoln County chicken houses

LINCOLN COUNTY, Tenn. (WAFF) - Taft community residents were vocal Tuesday night with their concerns over incoming chicken houses that are being built near several wellheads that supply water to more than 20,000 Lincoln County residents. At the county commission meeting, several concerns were raised like smell, quality of life and property as well pollutants getting into the water supply.

The Concerned Citizens of Taft (CCOT) organized with the goal of understanding any negative impacts that the commercial poultry operations could have on their drinking water supply. As a collective, they have gathered over 2,000 signatures and sent over 1,400 letters to local officials.

“What we wanted them to do is do their job and protect our water," said CCOT Founder Dottie Berry.

The Tyson-contracted facility in Taft, TN, sits on land in what the CCOT describes as a vulnerable water resource (Lincoln County Board of Public Utility #1). It currently serves more than 20,000 people but the CCOT reports only 8 wellheads are operational with a 37% ongoing water loss.

Loree Beth Sowards lives in the Taft community. She found out 10 public utility wellheads on the west side of Old Railroad Bed have been left out of the protection area on the Wellhead Protection Map on file with the state.

Representatives with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation attended Tuesday night’s meeting to provide a broader perspective.

According to their reporting, after a mid-June sanitary test, the LCBPU #1 water system scored 97%. “There were deficiencies, but nothing was alarming.”

Sowards was able to shed light on the wellhead’s left out of the protection area on the map.

Each blue pin on the map highlights a wellhead that is afforded protection under the Safe Drinking Water Act. At minimum, each wellhead is required to receive a fixed amount of protected area, according to the Tennessee Statute, Rule 0400-45-01.

TDEC officials explained there are two zones around wellheads. The first zone protects 750 feet around the site. Zone 2 is a more lenient safe-zone to examine potential contaminants.

The commercial poultry facility “looks like” it will be within zone 2, which would make it compliant, according to TDEC officials. Uncertainty remains because the map provided to TDEC appears outdated (2011).

“We have government officials higher than our county telling us they don’t know what’s going on down here. So that’s extremely concerning," said Berry.

A Tennessee law passed last year only requires a facility to obtain a permit if they plan to discharge material or have large liquid waste management. The Tyson-contracted facility will not.

Based on the 2011 Wellhead Protection Area Map, TDEC says the facility could be in a zone-1 area of a wellhead. That would pose a problem with current production plans.

TDEC has given the LCBPU until September 1 to submit an updated map.

“Where we get stopped because we only have so much access as citizens, that voice could continue with elected officials,” charged Sowards.

Commissioners are seeking legal guidance from state attorneys to ensure the facility is in compliance.

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