Villagers urged to protect Tellico Lake

Algae and vegetation buildup lines the shores of Tellico Lake at Tanasi Golf Course. The Watershed Association of Tellico Reservoir will launch a riparian buffer zone April 6 at Tanasi in hopes of decreasing water pollution.

Organizers with the Watershed Association of Tellico Reservoir are taking responsibility in getting the word out to Tellico Village residents about current pollution issues in Tellico Lake.

Marilyn Hawkey, WATeR publicity and communications chairwoman, is new to the organization’s board and is putting on a full-court press to increase awareness.

“WATeR has been fairly inactive for the past couple of years in terms of leadership and communicating what we’re doing,” she said. “Because a lot of what WATeR is coming to be, it has to be behavioral change in the Village and the surrounding areas, and that includes the farmers because the organization is dedicated to the preservation of the reservoir. It’s not just the lake, it’s the tributaries in the area feeding into it. There’s been a lot of inactivity in terms of communication, and I hope to change that and put some energy into doing that.”

Part of the new communication initiative involves a new educational program for local schools.

“There’s an education committee that’s going to be new and functioning, and hopefully, that group will reach out to the schools, you know, go to the boards of education here and get permission to go into the schools,” Hawkey said. “They have a scholarship-offering idea that they want to run to the high schools. I think fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders have the right mentality to change. There’s too much trash that gets thrown by people that work here and people that live in the adjacent areas.”

Organizers have noticed a dramatic increase in pollution levels over the last five years. WATeR collected more than 13 tons of trash last spring around Tellico Lake’s shorelines.

“We don’t know why, but typically it’s three or four tons,” Jim Hawkey, WATeR quality improvement member, said. “Now in the first year you start, you’d expect a lot because you’ve got residual left, but we’ve been in the three or four tons per year for five, six years. This year for some reason, it jumped way up, we don’t know why. Maybe we had more people, maybe they looked better, but that’s a once-a-year activity usually before TVA raises the lake. They organize 300, 400 people to get out in the community, and most of it is from WATeR that organizes it and manages it to other organizations, as opposed to individual people.”

WATeR collects samples of water from the lake monthly and sends them to Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee for analysis. TVA has a fish consumption advisory in place for Tellico Lake due to high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls.

“That was a result of an illegal dumping into the Chilhowee Reservoir back in the early 1970s,” Bill Waldrop, WATeR water quality improvement chairman, said. “Transformers were dumped into that lake before Tellico was even formed, and they contained PCBs that acted as a fire retardant. They got to looking and they found out they were probably carcinogenic, so they were outlawed for years, and so people had to dispose of those transformers and uses of PCBs.”

Shortly after the dumping, the transformers rusted and leaked oil, which adhered to the lake’s sediment.

“All of that sediment got washed down and soon ended up down in Tellico Lake, which is where a lot of catfish cling,” Waldrop said. “Elevated concentrations of PCBs in catfish flesh were discovered shortly after Tellico was created in 1979.”

Another key issue has been the quick, sporadic growth of unwanted vegetation due to livestock aggregation and the use of pesticides.

“The single greatest natural resource in the Village is Tellico Lake ... people may argue that, but it’s a big one,” Jim said. “If the lake goes bad, it’s bad not just for us to sit and look over it, but it’s bad for the entire community. Once a lake turns bad, bad meaning lots of weeds, algae, slimy looking, it’s virtually impossible to fix it, to clean it up. The emphasis of WATeR has been to nip it early on so it doesn’t get bad, but we’re seeing, candidly, we call it greening. We see more aquatic vegetation, we see less clarity of the water.”

One way Villagers can help protect the lake is by limiting the use of chemically-laden fertilizers and pesticides in their yards.

“You can’t sit here and say, ‘Well, it’s the Madisonvilles of the world,’ because it’s those nasty farmers, it’s me and the guy sitting next to me fertilizing lawns with high nitrogen, high phosphorous and spraying pesticides everywhere,” Jim said. “The new initiative is riparian buffer zones, which is you strip a land in your backyard, let’s say 15 to 20 feet wide, planted with natural vegetation to catch the runoff when it rains, retain it and also stops you from spreading fertilizer when it runs off the edge because half of it goes in the lake. That’s a new big push.”

WATeR will launch a new riparian buffer zone April 6 along the lakeshore at Tanasi Golf Course.

For more information about WATeR or preservation efforts, visit www.tellicowater.org.