South Blount Utility District opened its new water treatment plant to the public in a Friday ceremony marking completion of the $20 million project.
Located on Calderwood Highway, the facility cleans water using membrane filtration technology, making South Blount the first utility in East Tennessee to implement the method for a public water supply.
Henry Durant, plant manager, said Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation has monitored the plant’s water treatment and given the district “100 percent” on its sanitary survey.
Isom Lail, utility district manager, welcomed Friday’s crowd.
“It’s a safe facility,” said Lail. “There’s no gases or explosives, no corrosives. It’s just all went really well this last year.”
South Blount started selling water from its plant in June, according to Durant. Before construction of the plant, the utility bought its water from Alcoa and distributed it to its 12,000 customers.
The South Blount plant uses membrane filtration technology from Pall Corp. Water circulates through rows and rows of filters, each porous, with holes as small as half a micron — the size of bacteria, according to Durant. The plant requires few workers, about six, and the operation can be monitored from one control room in the plant. South Blount recently completed certification on its laboratory for sampling water and monitoring bacteria level.
Sodium hydroxide is the only disinfectant used in the water.
No fluoride added
South Blount’s Utility board decided against fluoridating water, a decision that has drawn criticism from public health officials.
Residents like the Kristi Ogle are also concerned.
“We have two small children. They are both in the process of developing their permanent teeth. I am terribly concerned about the health of their teeth,” said Ogle. “We go to the dentist regularly and use toothpaste with fluoride in it. But I feel betrayed by our water supplier because they are not doing their part to help our children be healthy.”
Water treatment plants aren’t required by state and federal law to put fluoride in the water, and Durant was concerned about the corrosive nature of fluoride and the addition of chemicals in the plant.
In a June interview with the newspaper, he and Lail said they made the recommendation to the board against fluoridation and board members supported that request.
The Blount County Health Department and Blount County Dental Society both criticized the decision and would like to see the water supply fluoridated.
The American Dental Association and U.S. Public Health Services endorse fluoridation of water as a way to reduce tooth decay in a population.
Utility board chairman Bob Herron said he’s gotten a few calls from residents concerned about the lack of fluoridation, but wasn’t convinced it needed to be done. He didn’t rule out the measure, either.
“We’ve got the facilities to put it in,” he said. “It’s not very expensive to do.”
Herron doesn’t expect the cost of the new plant to drive up customer bills anytime soon.
“Hopefully we won’t have to have a rate increase for a good long while,” he said.
Tellico Lake the source
The plant’s lead operator, Danny Pardue, said South Blount’s new plant could treat up to 8 million gallons of water a day.
Keeping county growth in mind, the utility had the plant built so that it could be expanded to treat up 12 million or 24 million gallons of water each day.
What board members and some visitors seemed most excited about Friday was the water source.
South Blount Utility draws its water from Tellico Lake.
“One of the nice things is the source,” said Virginia Morton, vice president of the utility board. “We’re taking some of the pressure off Little River.”
Ronnie Ratledge, a contractor who lives in the area, liked that aspect, too. The water treatment plant, he said, is one of the best things to happen to the county.
“It’s wonderful,” Ratledge said.