Johnson City sewer manhole discharged into Sinking Creek Thursday – Site had seven overflows in 2019


UPDATE: Johnson City utility officials contacted the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Thursday morning about a sewer manhole they discovered was overflowing near Sinking Creek.

The overflow occurred just upstream of the Sinking Creek pump station along Sinking Creek road. The manhole is several feet from Sinking Creek. WJHL visited the site around 9:45 a.m. Water was flowing at a high rate out of the top of the manhole.

Water overflows from a sewer manhole near Johnson City’s Sinking Creek pump station Thursday morning.

Tom Witherspoon, Johnson City’s director of water and sewer services, said in an emailed response to a list of questions that Johnson City crews had checked the site at 8 a.m. Thursday and reported the overflow to TDEC, as required, before noon.

TDEC’s Kim Schofinski said via email the city must submit a detailed report of the incident within five days.

It won’t be the first on that site, and Witherspoon said the city is in discussions with an engineering firm to provide a preliminary report specific to the Sinking Creek pump station.

“Once that report is complete it will be incorporated into our capital plan for consideration,” Witherspoon said via email. “We continue to  make collection system improvements to reduce infiltration and inflow in the pipes upstream of the station. A rehabilitation project for one of the basins upstream is projected to be undertaken in Fiscal Year 2022 which will be over $1,000,000.”

The Sinking Creek pump station, in this photo’s background, is in line for an engineering study.

The station has an alarm, like all the city’s pump stations, that indicates high flows. When remote reports indicate high flows staff members investigate.

Witherspoon said the city sometimes uses sewer cleaning trucks to pump and haul excess water during overflows, but said “during extreme events some volumes can be too large to handle.”

TDEC records show the city has reported overflows at the Sinking Creek location several times in the past year. Nearly all the incidents were associated with heavy rainfall. They occurred Feb. 12, Feb. 20, Feb. 28, April 19, July 23, Oct. 31 and Dec. 1.

Other locations in the city also had reported overflows through the year, but the Sinking Creek site had the most. Durations of overflow ranged from 2 hours to 51 hours. Estimated volumes ranged from a low of 3,000 gallons to a high of 855,000 gallons.

The high occurred during a 51-hour event that started at 8 a.m. Dec. 23 and ended at 11:50 a.m. Feb. 25. The cause was listed not just as heavy rainfall but as a “Level 3 State Declared Emergency for Flooding.” A total of 13 overflows occurred in the Johnson City system during that storm.


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A sewer manhole near a pump station along Sinking Creek was overflowing into the creek Thursday morning.

The site is near 229 Sinking Creek Road. The manhole is the second one going upstream from the pump station and the closest to the creek itself.

WJHL contacted the City of Johnson City’s communications office at about 10:20 a.m. and requested confirmation that the manhole was a sewer manhole. At about 10:30, the city was asked whether the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) had been contacted regarding the overflow — a requirement in such cases.

Meanwhile, a 10:41 a.m. email to TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski was answered at 11:32 a.m., confirming “TDEC has been in communication with the city this morning regarding an overflow at that location.” Schofinski said the city is required to submit a detailed report within five days.

A city spokesperson texted just before noon to say the city would be “sending something within the hour.”

TDEC documents show reports on overflows at that location most recently Dec. 1 and Oct. 31 2019, with rain cited as the cause. A suspected overflow Nov. 21 also was reported, on Nov. 26.

This is a developing story.

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