Thursday, December 13, 2018

Environmental Groups Ask County to Revoke TVA Well Permits

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 11:26 AM

click to enlarge Groundwater discharge from an aquifer test at the Tennessee Valley Authority Allen Combined Cycle Plant in October. - USGS
  • USGS
  • Groundwater discharge from an aquifer test at the Tennessee Valley Authority Allen Combined Cycle Plant in October.

Environmental groups have asked the Shelby County Health Department to revoke and not re-issue permits for five Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) wells near its new natural gas energy plant here.

The health department issued the permits for the wells in 2016. TVA planned to drill the wells into the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the source of the city’s famously pure drinking water, and pump millions of gallons to cool its new Allen Combined Cycle plant.

The Sierra Club and Protect Our Aquifer sued TVA in February last year to stop the plan. The groups were later denied an appeal on the well permits by the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board.

After the hearing, the board developed new regulations on issuing well permits that gave it more oversight on well permits, gave the public the opportunity for hearings before permits are approved, and more.

These new rules, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) on behalf of the Sierra Club and Protect Our Aquifer, prohibit "wells near sites where there are investigations into groundwater contamination, unless the wells will not enhance contamination.”

Environmental investigations are underway at the site of the five wells. They are within a half-mile of a TVA coal ash pit. Arsenic levels in groundwater there were found to be 300 times more than the legal limit.

click to enlarge The depth and amount of the contamination, according to the TVA investigation. - TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • The depth and amount of the contamination, according to the TVA investigation.

Using the wells near the site of the contamination could put the city’s drinking water at risk, the groups said in a letter to the health department Wednesday.

“With everything that we know about the threats to our local drinking water source, it’s hard to believe that TVA still holds permits issued by the county to operate water wells at Allen,” said Ward Archer, president of Protect Our Aquifer.
A review by the University of Memphis and the U.S. Geological Survey earlier this year found that the aquifer containing the contaminated groundwater was hydraulically linked to the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

TVA ultimately rejected the plan to pull water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer. It buys its water from Memphis Light Gas, & Water.

click to enlarge Crews work to build pads for two, 2.5 million-gallon water tanks to be built on the site of TVA's new Allen Combined Cycle power plant here. - TVA
  • TVA
  • Crews work to build pads for two, 2.5 million-gallon water tanks to be built on the site of TVA's new Allen Combined Cycle power plant here.

“It’s time for the county to step up and revoke these permits in favor of protecting the drinking water source for Memphis communities,” said SELC attorney Anne Passino. “As long as TVA has those permits, they have the authority to operate wells that could be a hazard for the Memphis Sand Aquifer.”

As a state Senator, now-Shelby-County-Mayor Lee Harris called for the suspension of the permits in July 2017. 

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