Great Smoky Mountains National Park personnel are working with emergency management authorities from the city of Gatlinburg, Sevier County, and the state of Tennessee in responding to the catastrophic failure of the equalization tank at the city's wastewater treatment plant, which resulted in a massive sewage spill and the deaths of two employees yesterday morning.
One wall of the main equalization basin, measuring 75 feet by 30 feet by 12 feet, collapsed and released an estimated 1.5 million gallons of untreated effluent into the West Prong of the Little Pigeon, a park-owned stream that bisects the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur of the Foothills Parkway. Two persons employed by the contractor that operates the facility were killed when the concrete wall crumbled on top of them.
Rangers have been assisting the city with overall incident management. Facility management personnel have been providing assistance with an assessment of the plant in hopes that it can resume safe operations in the near term and park resource management personnel will be working with Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation personnel to assess resource impacts and the development of short and long term cleanup and monitoring efforts.
As of yesterday afternoon, all of the city’s sewage was still flowing untreated into the river. A major weather system moved through the area on Monday night, bringing heavy rains, high winds and snow/ice at the higher elevations in the park. Over two-and-a-half inches of rain fell, significantly increasing the flow into the equalization tank, which may have contributed to the wall failure at the facility.