MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — To most people they're just cattle. To John Primm, they're his livelihood.
Primm has owned his Columbia farm since 1961, but it wasn't until 2003 that his cattle mysteriously began dying. “Sometimes you go out there you might see one or two. I have found two or three cows at one time dead,” he said.
Since then, 22 cows have died. He believes the problem is in the water.
“This right here is where they put the return pipe that turns the water on me. Behind this is a big pond they dug and see, when that thing gets up a certain height, that water comes up on me,” he said pointing to a picture taken of his property line.
Primm said he noticed problems begin when the subdivision behind his land started construction. He believes a pond on the property is leaking sewage water into his springs where cattle would drink. "Right in here I think that’s where they put that pond up on me. It's in my fence and everything. See my fence here,” he said pointing to another photograph.
A representative with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said in an email, "TDEC has been in communication with Mr. Primm regarding his concerns. We initially investigated a sediment runoff issue in 2005 and our most recent site visit was in 2020. TDEC staff have not observed sewage being discharged onto his property. Sampling which TDEC conducted in 2014 on a spring on Mr. Primm’s property did not show elevated levels of E Coli. You can find more information on our data viewer here. The pond within the subdivision is a stormwater retention pond – it is not intended to hold sewage. Lots within the subdivision utilize septic systems. No sewage would be permitted and has not been observed being released into the pond."
The representative went on to say "sampling was not conducted in 2020 as there was no new evidence provided to TDEC at that time. The 2014 sampling results showed the presence of E Coli at levels that were well below water quality standards – they are attached here and also available at the link in my previous email. E Coli is naturally present in low numbers in surface water."
But something is still causing Primm’s cows to die, and at 89-years-old he doesn't know where else to turn.
“It’s been rough, it’s been rough on me and to farm like that and caring [for] cows like that… I go back and see two or three dead- it’s been hurting, it has,” said Primm holding back tears.
Last year Primm had an independent company also test his spring water. E Coli was detected, but an exact amount was not specified.
Since the issues started, Primm had two cattle examined for causes of death. One cow was determined to have died from ingesting a piece of fencing. Another died from E Coli.
We reached out to Maury County officials, where the subdivision is located, for a comment and have not yet heard back.