A bipartisan effort in underway to protect the Memphis Sand Aquifer
, which provides Memphis drinking water. Last December, the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board approved the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to pump 3.5 million gallons per day from it to cool a new natural gas plant. This was despite a resistance led by the Sierra Club who warns that the massive withdrawal TVA needs to cool its natural gas plant could contaminate the aquifer water.
State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Lee Harris (D-Memphis) filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to set up a Memphis sands aquifer regional development board to protect water supplies in West Tennessee.
Senate Bill 776 also requires board approval to pump more than 10,000 gallons of water from the aquifer to ensure its long-term viability. It is sponsored by Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) and Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) in the House of Representatives.
“We want to make sure that the aquifer is preserved for future generations,” said Harris.
“That means we need to be careful with respect to the precedents we set today, since those precedents have a funny way to leading to negative consequences later. Because this aquifer is so special, we also want to do what we can to make sure that the public knows what’s happening with it and how it’s being utilized.”
This board would have full power to manage and preserve the aquifer. The nine-member board would be comprised of the mayors of Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette counties, which represents the area above where the aquifer flows. The governor would appoint the remaining members with two from the agricultural community, two from commerce and two from the environmental research community.
“This board would also help ensure that the flow of rain and water into the aquifer prevents pollution and waste,” Kelsey added. “I believe this legislation provides a well-balanced approach to ensure the aquifer is protected for many years to come.”
In addition, Senators Harris and Kelsey have filed a separate bill, Senate Bill 886, which requires anyone planning to drill a well to give at least 14 days advance notice to the state commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation with the notice published on department’s website.
“Clean drinking water is very important to our citizens and our future,” said Kelsey. “This legislation aims to ensure the aquifer remains a clean and reliable source for future generations.”