Shelby County residents working to protect drinking water

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis is known for having some of the freshest and cleanest water in the country, and many want to keep it that way.

However, a recent study showed a shallow aquifer connected to the Memphis Sand Aquifer had arsenic and contaminates.

There have been two public comment hearings this week with the Shelby County Groundwater Control Board about changing codes related to drilling wells.

The conversations stem from the investigation showing groundwater from a coal ash pond is arsenic-contaminated. The coal ash pond connects to the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which is our city’s primary drinking water source.

Although our drinking water’s not affected, the results put people on edge.

“Now that there is contamination under the coal ash ponds, we’re worried about it actually getting into the aquifer on its own," said Ward Archer, president of Protect Our Aquifer.

TVA has permission to drill cooling wells for a new gas plant into the Memphis Sand, which is less than half a mile away from the unlined, leaking coal pit.

They’ve put that plan on hold and are currently paying MLGW for water.

In the meantime, the groundwater board’s looking to change codes having to do with drilling wells into local aquifers.

Recommendations have ranged from fees for private wells that pump water from the aquifer, to banning large water bottling plants from coming here, to permitting being a public process.

“So there will be notice when a well is being applied for," said Archer. "That wasn’t the case with the TVA wells.”

A TVA spokesperson released the following statement on Tuesday:

"This issue is a local policy discussion and TVA is not directly involved. I will not be there and I don't believe TVA will attend. We affirmed our commitment earlier this month not to use our wells into the Memphis Aquifer to cool the gas plant. We are following the direction of TDEC on the investigation into the contamination at the fossil site. Results of our testing sent to TDEC confirm there is no impact to the deep aquifer, which is the source of drinking water."

Shelby County residents have until April 2nd at 4:30 p.m. to submit a public comment. The board will then go over them in public meetings and decide what needs to be changed to the permitting process.

You can reach out to Greg Parker with the Shelby County Health Department at greg.parker@shelbycountytn.gov for more information or to submit a comment.