Johnson City sewer manhole overflows after heavy rain


Sinking Creek site is near pump station that’s set for upgrade

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Heavy overnight rain left a Johnson City sewer manhole overflowing Friday morning just a few feet from Sinking Creek.

A combination of wastewater and storm water flowed steadily into the swollen creek just upstream of a Water and Sewer Department pump station. The manhole has experienced multiple overflows the past several years, but the pump station is in line for a multimillion-dollar upgrade.

When that fix is complete — the city recently received a $2 million grant to aid in construction — it could alleviate what has become a common problem during very heavy rains.

The overflow is the first in more than a year from any of several manholes near the pump station, at least according to records.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) records show the last recorded overflows were at 229 Sinking Creek Road on April 13, 2020. An 11-hour overflow resulted in an estimated 151,000 gallons being released.

The same manhole had a much larger overflow Feb. 6, 2020. It totaled an estimated 1.06 million gallons and lasted almost three full days.

A nearby manhole at 238 Sinking Creek — there are several within a hundred yards of the pump station — experienced seven reported overflows between Dec. 28, 2018 and Oct. 31, 2019.

TDEC policy states that a manhole that overflows more than five times within a 12-month period can be designated a “chronic overflow” site.

That didn’t occur with the Sinking Creek area, but two Johnson City system manholes were so designated last year — one at 2244 Eddie Williams Road and one at 201 Prince Street. Both are in east Johnson City near Brush Creek.

Moratorium lifted on Brush Creek

Last year, TDEC imposed a moratorium on new sewer connections upstream of the 2244 Eddie Williams Road manhole. That moratorium was officially lifted just last week.

That site, and the Prince Street site, are near a large “sewer interceptor” that the city began replacing in April with a new 42-inch line following years of planning.

Water and Sewer Director Tom Witherspoon outlined early progress on that work in a letter to TDEC dated June 7 and said no new overflows had been reported since at least May 1, 2020.

The letter also referenced a recently completed project in downtown Johnson City that removed an estimated half-million gallons of daily water flow that was impacting the two downstream manholes.

Finally, Witherspoon wrote, aggressive root removals downstream of the Eddie Williams manhole were completed on the old interceptor line. As a result, “flow capacity improved drastically,” he wrote, adding that the city “now believes that the cause of the overflows at (Eddie Williams) was more likely root intrusion, rather than inflow and infiltration and inflow during wet weather/rainfall events.”

TDEC officials responded June 25. The Johnson City field office’s Joshua Boggan wrote that “if the City of Johnson City has determined they have met the relief requirements as outlined in your NPDES permit, new and additional flows may be added upstream of the assets that are the subject of this letter.”

News Channel 11 sent the city several questions Friday morning about the latest overflow at Sinking Creek and the planned pump station work there.

That project carries an estimated price tag of a little under $6 million according to the April news release announcing the federal grant.

The city had not responded as of close of business Friday.

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