CLYDE — Mystery flooding and fecal coliform contamination in the Oak Park subdivision is no closer to being solved than it was a month ago.
Standing water and fecal contamination on the property of Dean and Lorelei Garnes at 126 Poplar Drive, Clyde, have been the target of multiple tests since May 6.
Both the sanitary district and state regulators have been working to solve the problem, but answers remain elusive and those involved have differing speculations on where the problem lies. There are also differing opinions on whether the issue is creating a public health problem in the community.
Josh Nickol, general manager of Junaluska Sanitary District, said all tests taken show there are no leaks in either the water or sewer lines. Tests have also ruled out any leaks between the district lines and the Garneses home, which lies in a slight swale below the JSD lines.
Tests by state regulators, however, showed the presence of both chlorine and fecal coliform in test holes dug at 126 Poplar Drive, indicating the water source isn’t ground water or even storm water, as Nickol has suggested, but instead is treated drinking water.
Junaluska Sanitary District is pulling out all the stops to get to the bottom of the problem. On Thursday a smoke test was conducted on the sewer lines and the district sent an alert to Oak Park area customers saying they will experience an outage on Friday, June 7, due to an emergency valve installation.
On Wednesday, a specialized truck, crew and camera system from the city of Brevard was brought in to video record the inside of sewer lines in all directions from the Garnes property.
Present during the testing were Garron Bradish and Adam Jones with the Haywood County Environmental Health Department; Mikal Willmer, environmental specialist with the Asheville Regional Office of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality; several personnel with Junaluksa Sanitary District, including Nickol; the sanitary district’s engineer, Jeffrey Brown, PE; attorney Burton Smith.
Bradish said the county had inspected the septic tanks in the homes in the area still operating on a septic tank system but found nothing. He said county personnel were present only to observe.
“We have no regulatory authority except over septic systems and private wells,” Bradish said. “This falls under a municipality.”
It is important that the source of the excess water be found, especially if it contains sewage, he said, because it can cause illnesses.
“Viruses don’t die and can live on in the sewer,” he said.
Willmer with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality said it might not be possible to immediately determine whether there were problems within the sewer line, but said she will take a copy of the camera results back to the state office where engineers can study it.
“We should be able to see everything,” she said. “We want to help get rid of the water problem.”
As the self-powered sewer camera propelled itself through the underground line, the small crowd gathered around the back of the truck where a real-time results were being displayed on a screen.
This is the second camera test being done near the Garnes property. Tentative test results for fecal coliform, were positive, according to Willmer’s report, but neither the state, the sanitary district or the county have equipment to determine whether the contamination is from human or animal waste.
The Garneses have hired a specialized company recommended by the state that can make that determination.
“They’ve done more to prove it’s not them than to help us,” Lorelei Garnes said. “We’re living a nightmare here.”
Public health concern?
Fred Walker, an engineer for the public water supply section of the state’s division of water resources, indicated in an email that chlorine tests near the home’s foundation were at levels that showed the presence of drinking water.
This doesn’t jibe with an email from Nichols speculating the water could be from natural sources or storm water, and that the fecal coliform count could be from the Garnes’ dogs, something Lorelei Garnes adamantly disputed, noting her dogs were in a fenced yard in the back of the house, far from the contamination.
Furthermore, Walker requested that the sanitary district issue an advisory to boil water until the issue is resolved.
“It is strongly recommended due to the presence of fecal material in the yard in addition to the probable water leak in the near vicinity of the Garnes residence that a Boil Water Advisory be issued immediately,” Walker wrote. “This is a serious public health risk to all of the system’s water users. Additionally, bacti sampling should be performed at the Garnes residence daily until this issue is resolved.”
Junaluska Sanitary District did not issue any notice to users regarding boiling water. Nickol said because there was no system leak, such an advisory was unnecessary.
“If there was a break, then we’d know the source and could issue a boil advisory until it was fixed,” he said. “I have yet to find line to fix.”
Meanwhile, the Garneses are prepared to hire a company to dig a ditch and line it with gravel behind the sanitary district’s lines where the water can pool and not do additional damage to their home’s foundation, which is downhill from the lines.