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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Tennessee (Section 319I - 1994)

The Tennessee Nonpoint Source Program continues to work, watershed by watershed, to mitigate nonpoint source problems. Tennessee strives for the holistic approach-- restoring riparian zones and wetland habitat along with stream and lake restoration and public education.

Tennessee Cleans Up Polluted Abandoned Mine Lands in Bear Creek

A high potential for health hazards from contaminated groundwater on hundreds of acres of unreclaimed strip-mined lands gave Tennessee good reason to clean up the area. With a combination of section 319 and state Abandoned Mine Lands Program funds, a reclamation program of monitoring and best management practices to improve water quality is underway in the Bear Creek watershed. The watershed in northcentral Scott County flows north into Kentucky. There, it joins the Cumberland River's Big South Fork, which Kentucky has designated a Wild and Scenic River. The National Park Service currently owns the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, - encompassing 73,748 acres in Tennessee and 30,430 acres in Kentucky.

Bear Creek drainage enters the Big South Fork just upstream from a freshwater mussel bed containing numerous species, two of which are endangered. The bed contains the world's highest concentration of one endangered species--the little-winged pearly mussel (Pegias fabula)- -that inhabits cool, clear, high-gradient streams.

Although about 100 families draw their water supply from the groundwater, test data for most pollutants were practically nonexistent. However, county extension service and local officials reported a high potential for health hazards from the contaminated groundwater. Cleanup was targeted for some 689 acres of partially reclaimed land--strip-mined for coal in 1973 and mined again in 1977. The target area also includes unmapped deep mines, abandoned oil and gas wells, an 80-acre industrial dumping site that may be contaminating the groundwater, and a 70-acre abandoned surface coal mine that has heavily eroded spoil banks and acid mine drainage. Other water quality impairments include heavy metals, sediment, and decreased dissolved oxygen.

Two active players in cleaning up the Bear Creek watershed are the NPS Program and the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program, both part of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The NPS Program has directed all water quality monitoring, including mapping potential groundwater use areas, follow-up monitoring at selected well sites, and monitoring before and after the installation of BMPs. The AML program will provide special water quality sampling for heavy metals, pH, and acidity during BMP construction. In addition, the State Division of Lab Services is checking for variations in the aquatic biological community as a sign of improvement at five sites. The Kentucky NPS Program is also evaluating water quality. The AML program has proposed BMPs and reclamation action, which calls for reshaping approximately 120 to 160 acres to establish controlled drainage. The reclamation agenda also includes installing subsurface limestone drains (anoxic limestone trenches) and creating buffer wetlands to route acid mine drainage. The anoxic trenches will raise the pH of acidic runoff, previously at 2.5, to between 6.0 and 6.5. The buffer wetlands enhance the aquatic community by increasing metal oxidation and pH. During the next two years, this procedure will be used on other sites identified in the upper watershed.

The BMPs were partially funded with three $25,000 section 319 grants to Tennessee in FY 1990, 1991, and 1992. The AML Program has supplied from $75,000 to $140,000 each year for BMP funding. The NPS Program also used section 319 funds, totaling $130,000, for pre-and post-BMP monitoring. Tennessee recently received an additional $375,000 in section 319 funds to complete the project and install the final demonstration BMPs. The state AML Program will match these funds. A special $15,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant will support water quality monitoring near the endangered mussel habitat.

Initial reclamation demonstration projects--land reshaping reclamation, installing anoxic drains, and constructing artificial (buffer) wetlands--were completed at the end of FY 1992. TDEC monitored four storms for chemicals at Big South Fork River and analyzed sediment and water quality from Bear Creek's east and west branches. This pre-BMP data will be used to show water quality improvements after all BMPs are installed and post-BMP monitoring is complete. Initial monitoring has confirmed the presence of several toxic metals, including mercury. A pH monitoring effort has indicated improved pH in water leaving the artificial wetlands. This may correlate to a potential reduction in toxic metals in the creeks. Outreach efforts have also drawn together various federal, state, and local pollution control agencies, which have exchanged valuable technology at on-site visits and presentations at meetings and conferences.

Animal Waste Systems Improving Habitat

Concern over nonpoint source water pollution from livestock production prompted Tennessee to target five subwatersheds in the Nolichucky River watershed. This area includes Greene and Washington counties, the state's largest milk producing areas. Much of the problem centers on animal waste from waiting or milking areas washing into the streams. To stem this pollution source, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has worked with other state and federal agencies and farmers to install animal waste systems. These systems store the waste, which farmers later use to fertilize crops.

For FY 1990 and 1991, the monies from a section 319 grant and other agencies totaled $392,813 to fund BMPs in the Nolichucky River watershed. Section 319 monies, through a contract with Tennessee Department of Agriculture, totaled $7,806. The majority of the BMP monies came from special ASCS funding. Although the 319(h) dollars for BMP implementation represented less than 2 percent of BMP funding from the FY 1991 and 1992 grant monies, an additional $50,000 of 319(h) money was spent for water quality monitoring for BMP effectiveness.

In testing the effectiveness of BMPs a year after installation, the Tennessee Department of Health found statistically valid improvements in benthic habitat in two subwatersheds.

The state determines improvement by using a number of biotic indexes. The North Carolina biotic index (NCBI) and Hilsenhoff biotic index (HBI)--which measure the number of pollution tolerant, intolerant, and facultative organisms in the watersheds --are two examples. Tolerant species are able to withstand and thrive in the nutrient-rich environment of a polluted watershed. Intolerant species cannot withstand a nutrient-rich environment, and increase only when pollution decreases. Facultative organisms can live in both nutrient-rich and nutrient-free environments.

BMPs in Jockey Creek, located in the Big Limestone watershed, were installed between August 1990 and - February 1991. Biological sampling began in October 1990, and by July 1991 the benthic community showed improvement. Although Jockey Creek showed no biological change from fall to spring, an increase in the number and diversity of intolerant Ephemeroptera (mayflies) showed some improvement in water quality during the summer. However, the facultative Stenonema species remained the dominant mayfly, indicating that some nutrient enrichment was still present in the waters.

The Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera (EPT) taxa richness (three orders representing the majority of intolerant species in the water) showed no change between seasons at Jockey Creek, which has the lowest value (number of taxa) of any of the Big Limestone test sites. However, EPT taxa richness for the rock habitat increased from four taxa in the fall and spring to seven taxa in the summer. This increase in intolerant species indicates an improvement in water quality. In addition, the percent of tolerant Chronomids and annelids--which survive in nutrient-rich waters-- dropped dramatically from a spring high of 57 percent to a summer low of 9 percent. All of the previous factors indicate improvement in Jockey Creek's benthic habitat since two animal waste systems were installed. Additional improvement over time will indicate if this is a trend.

Puncheon Camp Creek in the Lick Creek subwatershed, one of the study's smallest and most severely stressed streams, has also shown improvement after animal waste systems were installed in December 1990 and January 1991. Although still stressed, the benthic community showed steady improvement in May and July 1991.

The HBI and NCBI showed that the number of facultative species consistently increased throughout the spring and summer. While no new intolerant species appeared, the number of Perlesta (a facultative Plecotera [stonefly]) - increased during the summer. The fall 1990 sample showed a very low EPT richness of two in Puncheon Camp Creek. However, the intolerant species improved dramatically to 10 in the spring, with a small summer decline to eight. While tolerant Chironomids and annelids were abundant--57 percent in fall 1990 and reaching a peak of 72 percent in the spring--their presence dropped off to 12 percent in the summer, indicating water quality improvement. These measures show that Puncheon Camp Creek's benthic community structure may be improving. Tolerant organisms appear to be on the decline while facultative species are moving in to fill the habitat. However, the habitat remains severely impacted. Permanent improvement can be expected only over time as the habitat is restored. Continued analysis will show, in fact, whether the improvement is consistent.


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