Taxpayers are footing the bill for the $5 million grant.
The concern is contaminants seeping into the Memphis aquifer, which could possibly put the city's drinking water at risk.
The grant was awarded to U of M Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER) after Memphians raised concerns in recent years about the quality of the city’s water.
"Instead of waiting for Flint, Michigan, to happen, we’re being proactive, which is great for the administration and the citizens to say, 'Let’s beat this now,'" said Dr. Brian Waldron, U of M's CAESER director.
The study, which began in August, is looking at naturally-occurring holes in the protective clay that overlies Memphis’ groundwater system.
"We’re trying to figure out where these holes are, how water’s getting in, how contaminants could get in and the threat that has to our drinking water supply," Dr. Waldron said.
Taxpayers are already seeing an 18-cent per month increase on their utility bills after City Council approved a 1.05 percent rate hike for the project last year.
"We’ve got a great water supply here in Memphis, we’re truly blessed with that, and we want to maintain that," said Alonzo Weaver, MLGW's Senior Vice President of Operations.
But Dr. Waldron tells WREG this project just the first step in a bigger study of the aquifer that needs to be addressed in the near future. Another issue we’re facing, he says, is the question of whether we’re using the water faster than it can be replenished by nature.
His hope is that Memphis companies will come together and match taxpayer funds for a broader study.
"We would use those dollars to look at the broader picture of the groundwater, such as the replenishment rate," Dr. Waldron said.
U of M will be holding public meetings beginning sometime next year to educate people on the research and where their money is going.