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VOL. 118 | NO. 151 | Monday, August 23, 2004

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Officials Study Developments Effect on Water


The Daily News

As commercial real estate development continues to flourish in Metro Memphis, some local developers believe the trend could have an impact, if only a slight one, on the quality of the areas groundwater.

Pristine quality? The Memphis sand aquifers, the main source of the regions water supply, have long been known for pumping through water of pristine quality, and the layer of clay above them is believed to be almost impenetrable, said developer Gary Myers of Gary Myers Co. However, Myers said, there still seems to be contamination showing up in some of the water wells.

So somehow, things are getting down in there, he said.

Others, including developer David Goodwin Jr. of the David Goodwin Cos., are less certain. Goodwin, who described Memphis water supply as one of the best assets of the region, said his first impression is that developments effect on the areas water quality is negligible. But he said the possibility for contamination does exist, and if it becomes a problem, it would be something that certainly needs to be addressed.

Influencing development. The Memphis sand aquifers pump almost 205 million gallons of water each day. And the idea of possible contamination of the groundwater system has already been influencing development in areas such as Collierville, where development director Harvey Matheny said officials follow a strict land use control plan in determining if development in a particular area might affect the water system.

Our land use patterns dont support the types of industries youd consider to be pollutant-type industries, he said. The zoning and land use plans we have arent really the type that would create a detriment to the groundwater supply.

But though Matheny said Collierville doesnt have many of the types of businesses that pose a potential threat to the groundwater system, locations for new developments are still monitored on a regular basis.

Always some effect. In addition to Collierville, areas east of Memphis are also home to recharge zones of the Memphis sand aquifer, areas where rainwater can be absorbed into the system and there is no protective layer of clay above the aquifers.

Matheny said the exact boundaries of those recharge zones, however, have not been clearly defined, and thus the impact of development in those areas is a bit difficult to narrow down.

However, its safe to say that development always has some effect on water quality, Matheny said. Aside from developments potential effect on areas near the recharge zones, other factors could affect the areas water quality, including water retention problems around developments like shopping centers. There, water runoff could possibly find its way into the groundwater system, said Tim Overly, who oversees water and wastewater issues for Collierville.

I dont know if Memphis has seen anything like that or not, but those would be the potential areas for contamination because of windows in the clay layer, Overly said.

Stormwater problem. Whats more, Jerry Collins, director of public works for Memphis, said litter is posing a problem for the quality of stormwater in the city. And when it rains in some locations east of Memphis, he said, that rainwater decades later can end up in the aquifers that supply drinking water.

Basically what people throw on the street, in the instance of rainfall, it goes down into the storm drain inlets and ends up in areas like creeks, he said. That is a problem.

However, theres no question that quality of stormwater runoff is better today in terms of pollutants than it has been in many years, Collins added. Thats primarily due to the fact that there are controls in place commonly used now that were not used 20 years ago.

Keeping out pollutants. Greg Parker, supervisor of the water quality branch of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, said his department regularly looks at new development throughout the city and in the outlying county to determine what effect, if any, it might have on the areas water quality.

In general, we really dont want to have anything that would allow man-made pollutants into our drinking water, he said.

But because of the large volume of water pumped daily through the regions aquifers, Parker said, officials will remain vigilant.

And as Memphis and its suburbs continue to grow, officials will continue to monitor where new developments are going in and their potential impact on the groundwater supply.


PROPERTY SALES 92 242 2,507
MORTGAGES 108 336 2,943
BUILDING PERMITS 202 643 6,711
BANKRUPTCIES 43 176 1,963