State approves $69M in water infrastructure loans for Memphis, Johnson City, and Lebanon

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and  Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers announced three cities will received $69 million loans for water improvements through the Tennessee Local Development Authority.

Memphis will receive $48 million under the program, $15 million goes to Johnson City, and $5.7 million heads to Lebanon.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan will address wastewater treatment plant improvements in Memphis and rehabilitation of sewer interceptors in Johnson City and Lebanon.

The state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program has awarded more than $2 billion in low-interest loans since 1987.

Haslam names committee to study TN water resources

Press release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has appointed a steering committee of leaders from federal, state and local governments, industry, academia, environmental advocacy groups and public utilities to develop a statewide plan for future water availability in Tennessee.  Continue reading

TVA finds arsenic, other toxins in ground water beneath Memphis plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority has reported finding high levels of arsenic and other toxins in ground water underlying a Southwest Memphis power plant where thousands of tons of coal ash are impounded, reports The Commercial Appeal.

The arsenic, measured at levels more than 300 times the federal drinking-water standard, was discovered in monitoring wells at the Allen Fossil Plant. Excessive amounts of lead also showed up in the 50-foot-deep wells that were installed to check for any pollution emanating from ponds containing ash and boiler slag generated by burning coal.

The tainted ground water lies within a half-mile of where TVA recently drilled five 650-foot-deep wells into the Memphis Sand aquifer, the source of local drinking water, from which it plans to pump 3.5 million gallons daily to cool a natural gas-fueled power plant under construction. Local scientists and environmentalists had opposed the wells, saying the pumping could pull contaminants into the Memphis Sand.

However, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials say they believe the pollution is restricted to the upper-most aquifer and does not pose a threat to the much deeper Memphis Sand.

“We are confident the contaminants found in TVA wells at the Allen Fossil Plant are not impacting drinking water. Out of an abundance of caution, we have requested Memphis Light, Gas and Water (Division) to sample its treated water in order to give that assurance to customers,” TDEC spokesman Eric Ward said in an email.





Report on high lead levels in school drinking water may boost ‘flushing’ bill in legislature

Reports of unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water at some Nashville schools may improve chances for passage of legislation that died in a House subcommittee earlier this year, reports WTVF-TV.

The TV station recently found data from a survey of Nashville school water, not previously made public, that showed 81 of 2,800 samples had lead levels higher than the 15 parts per billion, the “action level” established by the Environmental Protection Agency. The American Academy of Pediatrics says a child’s drinking water should have no more than one part per billion and about third of the samples were in excess of that level. At one high school, the level was 1,190 parts per billion.

Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, sponsored a bill this year (HB385) that would require daily “flushing” of water systems in school building built before 1986.

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Nonprofit Mississippi River group dissolves after audit questions arise

A nonprofit group established protect and promote the Mississippi River in the stretch along Tennessee’s border has ceased operations after state auditors alleged improper bidding procedures in the design and construction of a $2 million visitors center, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The board of directors of the Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee voted to dissolve because the Tennessee Department of Transportation terminated a contract with the group and quit paying invoices, said Diana Threadgill, president and executive director. “We just ran out of money,” she said.

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TDEC fines TDOC for pollution by two prisons

In a case of one state agency penalizing another, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation recently fined the Tennessee Department of Correction for stream pollution near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Lauderdale County and the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex north of Chattanooga, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Potential fines in the TDEC order total $457,806. That can be reduced or eliminated the TDOC restores the streams – the Hatchie River in West Tennessee and a tributary of the Caney Fork River in Bledsoe County — and wetlands damaged by the pollution and outlines other environmental-restoration projects.

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Fed budget deal has record Corps of Engineers funding; $19M for Chickamauga Lock

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), vice chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, today announced that the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill provides $6.038 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – a record funding level in a regular appropriations bill – allowing up to $19.3 million to continue construction of Chickamauga Lock.

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Florida-Georgia squabble could impact Tennessee-Georgia border dispute?

Georgia appears on its way to winning a lawsuit with Florida over the use of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, reports the Times-Free Press, and that has led to talk of the Peach State launching a legal effort to change its border with the Volunteer State to take water from the Tennessee River.

The Florida-Georgia dispute didn’t involve borders; rather Florida’s 2013 lawsuit sought to restrict Georgia’s removal of water from the rivers in question, which flow south from Georgia into Florida. A special magistrate appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Ralph Lancaster, has issued his findings in the matter, which now go to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

Officials in the offices of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Chris Carr did not respond to questions about whether they might try to parlay Lancaster’s recommendation on the Florida issue into a new legal challenge on the state’s northern border.

Georgia lawmakers have long claimed a faulty 1818 survey left the state line roughly a mile south of the 35th parallel, which is where the border was intended to go. The mistake means the Tennessee River stays in Tennessee until it crosses into Alabama near South Pittsburg.

It comes within about 300 feet of the Georgia state line at one point in Marion County, leaving Dade County, Ga., tantalizingly close to the water.

With a sliver of the river in its control, Georgia could access Nickajack Lake to pump up to 1 billion gallons a day into the state to quench widespread water woes, magnified last year as the area grappled with devastating drought.

Dade County (GA) Executive Ted Rumley said last week the issue is still alive, even though it has been quiet for a few years. In 2013, Georgia lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution offering to give up the border dispute in exchange for 1.5 square miles of Tennessee land, where a pipeline could be built. Tennessee scoffed at the deal.

“There’s some things that are coming back on this,” Rumley said. “It’s never been dead, but it’s just been on the back burner as far as the actual border dispute. I think it’s something you’ll see come back in the next year or so.”

… Marion County (TN) Mayor David Jackson said he remains “totally opposed” to moving the border or offering a slice of his county to Georgia.

“It gets into planning,” he said. “Maybe they should look at better ways to plan in the future.”

Three big TN dams — Boone, Center Hill, Pickwick — getting repair work

Seven years after an historic flood underscored threats to dams across Tennessee, three of the state’s largest water-control structures face millions of dollars in needed repairs and improvements to deal with hazards ranging from earthquakes to sinkholes, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Although none is in as dire shape as the flood-damaged Oroville Dam in California, the federally operated Boone, Center Hill and Pickwick dams are being significantly reinforced through long-term projects, with water levels lowered in two of them. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which runs the Boone and Pickwick dams, and the Corps of Engineers, which operates Center Hill, say they have adopted aggressive safety measures to protect downstream residents.

The three dams are among the largest — and potentially most dangerous — in Tennessee. But they’re not the only ones that have raised concerns among dam-safety officials. Flash floods that swept across 49 counties in May 2010 led to the failure of seven dams statewide and caused damage at several others. More than a dozen dams in West Tennessee alone required significant repairs.

All told, there are more than 1,200 dams in Tennessee, including 273 rated as “high hazard” because their failure likely would lead to the loss of life. But nearly half of the state’s dams, including 69 rated as high hazard, are exempt from regulation and government inspections because they’re classified as farm ponds.

Board lets stand TVA permits to take water from Memphis aquifer

After a daylong hearing Wednesday, the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board upheld permits authorizing the Tennessee Valley Authority to tap the Memphis Sand aquifer for water to cool a Memphis power plant, reports the Commercial Appeal.

By a 7-0 vote, the board denied an appeal by the Sierra Club of the Health Department’s decision to grant the final two of five well permits sought by TVA.

Environmentalists had warned during the hearing Wednesday that the planned use of Memphis Sand aquifer water to cool a power plant could endanger public drinking supplies, while local officials defended their approval of wells for the facility.

The hearing centered on the Sierra Club’s appeal of county permits authorizing two of five wells sought by the TVA for its $975 million Allen Combined Cycle Plant under construction in Southwest Memphis. TVA plans to pump some 3.5 million gallons of water daily to cool the natural gas-fired plant, which will be a cleaner-burning alternative to the nearby coal-fired Allen Fossil Plant slated for retirement in 2018.

“We’ve had a plentiful water supply. However, there’s no guarantee that plentiful water supply will continue…,” said Webb Brewer, an attorney representing the Sierra Club.

“The new power plant will be a good thing from an ecological standpoint, but we do not need to waste water to operate that plant.”

But during his opening statement, Assistant County Attorney Carter Gray said the TVA wells met the requirements set by local regulations. Consequently, Health Department officials “were required” to issue permits for them, he said.


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