March 2009


Testing the Waters

Jonathan Walker leads a dozen team members in gathering soil and water samples near the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill.


Adam Deimling, left, and Brandi Ruth take samples from the Emory River. The samples Ruth is taking will be sent to a lab for analysis, while Deimling measures pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature and other criteria.

Three days a week, members of TVA’s Environmental Sampling Field Crew take water samples from more than 11 locations along 12 miles of the Emory River, six miles of the Clinch and five miles of the Tennessee.

“We do real-time analysis for pH and dissolved oxygen,” says Jonathan Walker, team leader for TVA’s Kingston water testing. “We send the rest to laboratories.”

There, each sample is tested, results are confirmed for quality assurance and the data are posted on the TVA Web site. As of mid-February, the number of samples taken by TVA’s group had topped 380 since the Dec. 22 incident. In addition, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation has taken more than 80 river samples while the federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken at least 28. Through Feb. 3, TDEC had also sampled more than 100 private groundwater wells within a four-mile radius of the plant.


Jonathan Walker prepares to take ash samples at Kingston Fossil Plant.

TDEC’s and EPA’s results, which are posted on the respective agency Web sites, show that both municipal drinking water and water sampled from private groundwater wells continue to meet the state standards for drinking water.

TVA’s sampling of untreated river water showed that some metals were elevated just after the incident and again after a heavy rainfall on Jan. 6, but subsequent sampling events have demonstrated lower amounts of suspended ash, and test results show metals below safe drinking-water limits set by the state for drinking water.

Walker, a 2001 graduate of Mississippi State University with a civil engineering degree, heard about TVA at a career fair and was hired as a water-quality specialist in Chattanooga. In 2003, he was part of the TVA group contracted by the Environmental Protection Agency to help with the Columbia shuttle recovery in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. And in 2005, he went to Louisiana to do water-quality work in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita.

As TVA continues to recover and restore the Kingston site, air and water quality continue to meet government standards. TVA has committed to make things right for the people of Roane County, and that’s what teams like Walker’s are doing.