VOL. 132 | NO. 145 | Monday, July 24, 2017
Harris Calls for Suspension of TVA Well Permits
By Bill Dries
State Sen. Lee Harris wants the county’s Ground Water Control Board to suspend permits for water wells at the site of the new Tennessee Valley Authority plant in southwest Memphis and begin an investigation of high lead and arsenic levels found in area groundwater “as soon as practicable.”
Harris made the request Thursday, July 20, in a letter to the chairman of the board, noting that the board is “empowered to investigate these wells to ascertain the risk of further contamination.”
TVA drilled its own water wells into the deeper aquifer that supplies the city’s drinking water to cool the engines of the new gas-fired plant being built across the road from the Allen Fossil Plant. The high lead and arsenic levels were found in an upper level groundwater pool beneath coal ash ponds on the fossil plant grounds.
Harris called for changes in local and state regulations governing the drilling of such wells earlier this year.
Harris’ letter last week was in reaction to word Thursday that samples taken from 10 wells in the area show no detectable levels of lead or arsenic in a follow-up by Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division.
“Also, I believe an investigation of the effects of the risk of contamination through the new wells should be conducted by an independent non-TVA third party,” Harris wrote. “It seems prudent that, until such an investigation is conducted, the well permits previously approved by the GWCB should be suspended, another tool that the GWCB should consider utilizing.”
ESC Lab Sciences tested water drawn from wells supplying water to the nearby Davis Pumping Station as well as treated drinking water that then goes into MLGW’s distribution system.
The utility said initial test results showed some traces of lead in two of the wells, and more samples were tested as a result. Those tests showed lead was below detection limits. Water from the wells and the Davis station tested below detected limits for arsenic, according to MLGW.
Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator for the Tennessee Sierra Club, expressed relief at the test results but remains concerned about the wells at the new TVA plant.
“TVA should contract with MLGW to provide cooling water for their new power plant until the appropriate groundwater experts can complete an exhaustive study of the geology underlying TVA’s facilities,” he said in a written statement.
Such a study would be to determine “without doubt” that there are no breaches in the clay layer that protects the deeper groundwater.
Ward Archer, president of the group “Protect Our Aquifer,” made the same point.
“Common sense would suggest that operating five high-performance wells across the street from a leaking coal ash pond is not a good idea,” he said in a written statement.