US Nitrogen's proposed plans to draw water from the Nolichucky River to support the operations of the plant which the company is building at Midway has sparked comments from local utility officials.
The water would be used by US Nitrogen primarily as a coolant in connection with the plant's production of liquid ammonium nitrate.
On Feb. 4, The Greeneville Sun published an article under the headline, "US Nitrogen Asks To Get Water Out Of The Nolichucky River," describing the company's proposal to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) for drawing water from the river.
Under the plan:
* the water used by the company as a coolant for its manufacturing operations would be drawn directly from the river, treated by the company before it is used, treated by the company again after it is used, then discharged directly back into the river;
* the water used by the company for conventional wastewater purposes would come from the Old Knox Utility District and, after leaving the plant, would be processed through the Town of Mosheim's nearby wastewater treatment plant and treated as normal sewage before being discharged back into Lick Creek.
Before the current proposal was developed, US Nitrogen and local officials had been working since 2011 to find a solution for the very large amounts of water that US Nitrogen would need for coolant purposes: 1.45 million gallons per day, the company says.
After the article about the company's new proposed plan was published, Greeneville Water Superintendent Laura White submitted a statement to the Sun explaining the perspective of the Greeneville Water Commission, Old Knox Utility District and the Mosheim Sewer District concerning the US Nitrogen water situation.
In White's statement, she details how local utilities have worked to try to accommodate US Nitrogen's water needs, including applying for various grants to be used to upgrade existing utility facilities in order to be able to deal with the large volume of water needed for the plant's operations.
At one point, she says, discussions with the company were centering on US Nitrogen's buying all its water from the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District. Old Knox, in turn, buys the water from the Greeneville Water Commission.
White acknowledges that US Nitrogen would have had to treat the water bought from the Old Knox Utility District in order to remove trace amounts of minerals that can cause damage to the company's highly specialized manufacturing equipment.
But White emphasizes that, even though the trace amounts of these minerals would have had to be removed by US Nitrogen before use, the water provided by Old Knox is clean and absolutely safe for human consumption.
Representatives from the Old Knox Utility District and the Town of Mosheim told the Sun in separate interviews that White's letter speaks for them as well.
US NITROGEN'S COMMENTS
US Nitrogen Project Manager Justin Freeark issued the following response to White's comments:
"US Nitrogen is appreciative of the cooperation and dialogue we have received from local utility districts and municipalities since we arrived here more than two years ago. We value them and are confident in the services they provide the community, and we believe they have been very cooperative and supportive.
"Public water used by US Nitrogen employees for drinking is provided by Old Knoxville Highway Water Utility District, which obtains potable water from the Greeneville Water Commission. US Nitrogen considers the public water supply to be of good quality, safe to drink and a valuable resource.
"The water quality needed for US Nitrogen's industrial process does not need to meet these same stringent water quality standards. US Nitrogen will use water in an environmentally responsible manner."
This is the full text of Laura White's statement:
"In response to your article titled 'US Nitrogen Asks to Get Water Out of the Nolichucky River,' I would like to convey the following information and be a voice for the Greeneville Water Commission and for our sister utilities.
"When representatives from US Nitrogen initially came to Greeneville, a boardroom full of utility personnel, railroad personnel and other stakeholders listened to the proposed plant needs and the amount of water that they would be utilizing and discharging.
"US Nitrogen is located within the boundaries of the Old Knox Water District and the Mosheim Sewer District. Water is provided to all Utility Districts with the exception of North Greene through the Greeneville Water Commission, whose intake is on the Nolichucky River.
"At the time of the initial meeting, it was determined that based on the numbers provided, all utilities could be adequately provided for. That is with water being provided by Old Knox Utility District and wastewater provided by the Town of Mosheim.
"Numerous meetings and consultations have been held between US Nitrogen staff and representatives from Old Knox, Mosheim and Greeneville. I know that in Greeneville, we have worked with Old Knox and Mosheim in trying to come up with a solution for US Nitrogen water and wastewater issues.
"There are many rules and regulations that govern water and wastewater plants and collection and distribution systems.
"In order to appropriately size a water line, you have to have an idea of the amount of water that will be pushed through that water line. In order to size a water storage tank, you have to know how often that water will be turned over. Utilities have to sample for disinfection by-products which have been shown to be higher when water age is an issue.
"I understand that the 'water solution has changed over time.' This is a new facility, and it is hard to determine how much water will be used.
"When stated that 'no consensus could be reached' [in the Feb. 4 article] with the Greeneville Water Commission, this is not exactly accurate.
"Because US Nitrogen resides in the Old Knox Utility District, Greeneville is not allowed to provide water directly to them as a customer. At no time was Greeneville approached to do so.
"Greeneville supplies Old Knox Utility District with water at their master meter, and Old Knox distribution system supplies the water to their customers. I know that the water provided at the master meter is in the amount that US Nitrogen would require.
"As far as a source, the Nolichucky River is the source of water for the Greeneville Water Commission. I realize that with a delicate process in an industrial setting, more treatment is required. I would like to assure our customers that their water is absolutely safe to drink.
"I have had numerous calls and comments because the article stated that US Nitrogen required cleaner water than we could provide.
"If they withdraw from the Nolichucky, similar treatment processes will be required and most likely another form of advanced treatment to take out any other minerals that are naturally occurring in our supply from the Nolichucky may be necessary.
"As for the wastewater side, the Greeneville Water Commission and the Town of Mosheim met with US Nitrogen representatives several times.
"The Greeneville Water Commission and Mosheim hired a consultant to give a third party representation to them in coming up with a rate that would work for both Mosheim and Greeneville, so that current customers of Mosheim and Greeneville would not bear the burden of the increased infrastructure cost.
"I can assure you that the Greeneville Water Commission, the Old Knox Utility District and the Town of Mosheim have made every effort possible to assist US Nitrogen. Numerous grants have been applied for and improvements have been made to all of the systems above to make sure that the needs of US Nitrogen could be accommodated.
"When applying for grants, they are specific. If you apply for a grant to upsize an 8-inch water line, you have to upsize that size line or give the money back. When giving the money back, it could make it more difficult to receive funding in the future.
"I know that I can speak for Greeneville Water, and based on the meetings I have attended, I believe that I can speak for Mosheim and Old Knox, when I say that we want nothing more than for this industry to succeed and be a vital component of our county.
"It is just as important for our customers to know that we have worked diligently to provide the best water at the best price that we can.
"Infrastructure is not cheap. To build it into an existing rate structure is difficult and must be handled delicately so as to not put an undue burden upon our customers."