VDH Issues Recreational Water Advisory for South Fork of the Powell River Near East Stone Gap Due to Sewage Release

February 22, 2023 

For questions about the sewer main repairs: Gary Hampton, Director, Big Stone Gap Department of Public Utilities, (276) 523-0115

For questions about the health advisory: Allison Phillips, Population Health Manager, LENOWISCO Health District, VDH allison.phillips@vdh.virginia.gov

VDH Issues Recreational Water Advisory for South Fork of the Powell River Near East Stone Gap Due to Sewage Release
Public Advised to Avoid Contact with Contaminated Water 

(Wise, VA) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is issuing a recreational water advisory for the South Fork of the Powell River near East Stone Gap to the Powell River at Big Stone Gap. For the safety of people and pets, VDH is advising that recreational water activities, such as swimming, wading, tubing, and whitewater kayaking (where submersion in the water is likely), should be avoided. The advisory is issued out of an abundance of caution due to a sewage release from a Big Stone Gap Department of Public Utilities sewer force main on February 21, 2023, into the Powell River.

As of 10 am on February 21, 2023, VDH was informed by Big Stone Gap Public Utilities that approximately 50 gallons of sewage per minute from the force main was being released into the South Fork to the Powell River, following the main failure on February 21, 2023. Activities to repair the force main were expected to continue today, weather permitting.

VDH has observed no evidence of impacts to drinking water at this time.


Activities on the waterbodies, which are not likely to result in water submersion (boating, fishing, canoeing), may continue with proper caution to avoid contact with the water.


Swallowing contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, with vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. Contact with contaminated water also can cause infections of the ears, nose, throat and skin.

To prevent recreational water illnesses due to exposure to sewage release events, people should:

  • Avoid contact with the waterbodies noted above and observe advisory signage posted at waterbody access points.
  • Avoid any area of the waterbody where there is water with a foul odor, dead or dying fish, or discolored water.
  • Promptly wash skin with soap and water if you cannot avoid contact with water in the vicinity.
  • Seek medical care and notify your practitioner of the waterbody exposure if you experience adverse health effects after contact with the waterbody.

For more information on recreational water safety, see “Safely Enjoy Virginia’s Natural Waters” and other materials at www.SwimHealthyVA.com.