Group trying to get fishing advisories lifted at Tellico Lake

JOSH AULT-6 News Reporter

TELLICO VILLAGE (WATE) - Tellico Lake is one of the most popular lakes in Tennessee, but some feel advisories that say fish there may cause cancer are turning potential residents and visitors away.

Those advisories have been issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Volunteers with the Watershed Association of the Tellico Reservoir, or WATeR, say recent tests show the fish in the lake are much healthier.

They say they are now on a campaign to get all of the advisories lifted.

A fishing advisory at Tellico Lake has been in place since 1986.

TDEC officials say the first advisory was put into place when high levels of polychlorinated byphenyls or PCB's were detected. Several years ago, high mercury levels caused another fishing advisory to be placed on the lake.

"PCB number's . . . the highest value that I've found in our data base is 1992 and it's 2.7 points per million," said WATeR volunteer Bill Waldrop, "Latest was 2011, and it's about .3 parts per million."

Waldrop, who helped start WATeR, says both PCB and mercury levels have dropped to safe levels.

"If the limits are no longer protecting public health then it's time to reduce them," he said. "It's time to eliminate those restrictions."

TDEC officials agree that some fish have tested with much lower pollutants than fish in the past, but are slow to say any of the fishing advisories will be lifted soon.

Shannon Ashford, TDEC communications officer, released this statement:

"Tellico Reservoir is one of the youngest reservoirs in the TVA system, but has had a fishing advisory since 1986. It was originally posted for PCBs (polychlorinated byphenyls). When the mercury trigger point was lowered to 0.3 ppm (parts per million) by EPA and FDA several years ago, fish tissue levels justified adding mercury as an additional pollutant of concern for human health at Tellico.

The issuance of fishing advisories, where justified, is mandated by the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act (WQCA). A TDEC advisory is for purposes of providing information to the public. TDEC has no authority to regulate recreational or commercial fishing that is a responsibility of TWRA. There is not a formal regulatory process to issue or remove advisories. TDEC reviews the data and once data indicate that public health is no longer threatened, we remove the advisory. At this time, we do not have data that justifies lifting the advisory on Tellico.

TVA is the management agency for Tellico and they have collected the majority of the fish tissue data. Once TVA has the results of the 2013 collections, they will share them with TDEC. Historically, they have collected fish at two stations every other year. One station is near the dam, the other further upstream."

Waldrop says the advisories are hurting the local economy.

"People consider, when they consider moving here, that they don't want to go to a highly polluted lake," said Waldrop. "They would like to go to a clean lake. We got a clean lake."

TVA officials collect the fish samples that are tested by TDEC. They collected samples from Tellico Lake in the past few weeks. Those results should be done by the beginning of next year.

Members of WATeR say if those samples come back with continued low levels of pollutants, they plan to take their fight to Nashville.