The Indian Creek Youth Camp is situated on the banks of Center Hill Lake, not far from Liberty, Tennessee. The lake is fed by the Caney River and is a popular recreational area in central Tennessee. Indian Creek can accommodate up to 350 people. It is surrounded by permanent residences and vacation homes scattered throughout the surrounding hills.

Unlike similar locations, the camp does not close for the winter. Instead, the cabins are rented out during the winter to vacationers. The camp operates its own water system, which also services the nearby residences. The camp is a surface water system that requires full treatment of the water it pulls from the lake. The system was managed by Herb White for more than 20 years. Herb’s duties were not limited to just the water system. He managed and performed maintenance all over the camp, so his time with the water system was often limited. In 2020, Herb decided he was ready to retire. He began working with his replacement, Ben Copely, and mentored Ben to take over all his responsibilities at the Indian Creek Youth Camp, a place Ben is very familiar with. “I came here as a camper years ago when I was a kid,” Ben said. “As a teen, I started working here with Herb White. I did maintenance one year, and one year I worked with the horses.”

Ben had moved across the country, from Florida to Idaho, before Herb called him about the job at the camp. By that time, Ben had a diverse background in construction and maintenance, so he was the top choice to replace Herb. To take over all of Herb’s responsibilities, Ben would need to become a certified water operator.

As the transition began, the water system received a state order from the Tennessee Department of Environment Commission (TDEC). The system was out of compliance because of a lack of proper testing and documentation. The state order noted that the system was not sampling regularly. It was not performing tasks related to the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2ESWTR) and Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR). The documentation for the water system was as outdated as the aging infrastructure. The standard operating procedures SOPs) were written on a whiteboard. There was no set sampling schedule and samples were not regularly taken. Source water assessments weren’t performed. The water operator usually only visited the office once a month to complete paperwork and perform bacteriological sampling to monitor for the presence of coliform bacteria and pathogenic bacteria.

As a result, the system fell out of compliance with state and federal regulations. Since the system is privately owned, it is challenging to find funding for repairs or upgrades, and consequently the system had not been updated since the year 2000. It was suggested that Indian Creek contact Communities Unlimited (CU) for assistance in regaining compliance. Although CU was called to assist in addressing the state order and get the water system back into compliance, Ben said he was skeptical that such an organization could provide so much for no cost to the water system. “I didn’t believe it was true that someone could help decipher everything,” he said. He checked with other nearby systems that had worked with CU and heard high praise from each one. Reassured, he was ready to meet the staff from Communities Unlimited.

Annie Chiodo, Community Environmental Management Specialist, took on the project. While discussing the issues with Herb White, Annie learned that Ben needed assistance in obtaining his water operator certification. “I took the test the first time and failed it,” Ben explained. “So I started again with her. Annie was very supportive, and she’d ask me questions and answered questions when I had them.” Annie began tutoring Ben and offered basic training to prepare him for his water operator certification class. Once he completed the required water operator course, Ben planned to take the certification exam again in May of 2020.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the exam in May. The exam is only administered twice a year, so his next opportunity to take the exam would not be until November 2020. “It was really disheartening to have that taken away,” Ben said. Annie worked with Ben to keep his knowledge fresh and prepare for the next exam. Ben said he continued to study hard, even spending most of a family vacation studying. Ben knew the stakes. “It’s super important that I pass the test and that I deal with the state and not forget anything or mess up something,” Ben said. “If I make a mistake, it could cost us.”

The exam was held in November 2020 as scheduled, and Ben was able to take the test. He informed Annie that he had passed and is now a certified water operator. The certification paved the way for him to take over the water system and for Herb to retire in 2021. After management and maintenance of Indian Creek fully transitioned to Ben, there was still a lot of work to get the water system back into compliance. One of the issues that needed to be addressed was the monitoring of the water source. Monthly monitoring of E. coli levels is required. If the E. coli levels exceed EPA specified concentration levels, Cryptosporidium monitoring is necessary. This type of monitoring requires a detailed monthly monitoring plan. When Annie requested the plan from Indian Creek, she received a single page with the sample plan, maps of the system and collection points. The system also lacked a cross-connection control plan. In addition, a Watershed or Source Water Protection Plan was required to describe the actions necessary to protect and enhance the source water through public education, watershed conservation, applying best management practices, or creating and implementing land-use restrictions. It outlines how to mitigate existing and future threats to the water supply.

Annie worked with Herb and Ben to develop a Corrective Action Plan to satisfy the state regulators. Annie guided them in creating a Cross-Connection Control Plan, a Sampling Plan, a Watershed or Source Water Protection Plan, and a Monthly Operational Report. The system also needed proper documentation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

As COVID-19 swept the country, Annie provided personal protection equipment (PPE) to the camp’s personnel through the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). “Annie made sure we had PPE,” Ben said. “She got us some masks when no one else had them.”

On January 1, 2021, Herb officially retired, and Ben became the official certified water operator for Indian Creek Youth Camp. Ben continues to work with Annie to create required documentation, set and execute a sampling schedule and update the water system’s programs. Ben praised the assistance Indian Creek has received from Annie and Communities Unlimited. “What I love about Annie is she’s always there to encourage you and keep you on track,” he said. “For me, it’s fantastic to have Annie [and Communities Unlimited] looking over my shoulder.

Annie Chiodo

Annie Chiodo

Communities Unlimited
Tennessee State Coordinator