In The U.S , The Cleanest Drinking Water Could Become UndrinkableQuartz
Memphis, Tennessee is home to what some consider the sweetest and purest drinking water in North America. The reason it’s so clean has to do with where the city’s drinking water sits in a pristine underground lake known as the Memphis sand aquifer .
We have a very unique situation here. Good portion of the water that’s in the Memphis aquifer is over 2,000 years old that’s before the modern age of industrialization and carbon and pesticides and medicines and everything else that gets into the water. So it’s a very very clean water.
Above the Memphis Sand aquifer, separated by a layer of clay, is the city’s groundwater and above that groundwater, just a few miles from downtown , is a recently retired coal power plant, and it’s coal ash pit from the 60s that holds the toxic residues, like arsenic and lead left behind by burning coal.
Next to all that is a new gas power plant, the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA manages both the old and new plants and the pit. The TVA wanted to pump water from the aquifer to cool the gas power plant and that had people worried because of the potential for unintended consequences . Coal ash contaminants are leaching down into the groundwater .
If the new power plant turned on its pumps, water might be drawn through those breaches in the layer of clay and into the city’s clean drinking water . When you pump the groundwater that can create a higher potential for water to move from the shallow groundwater above down toward breaches and then Into the aquifer system. That would have been bad but no one actually knew how bad that is until the TVA was forced to comply with the Obama administration’s coal ash rule the regulation mandated that the TVA installed a network of groundwater monitoring wells and that monitoring revealed that coal ash had been leaking into the groundwater.
The results showed the groundwater round the coal ash pit was contaminated with arsenic at levels 400 times higher than the EPA’s groundwater Standards allowed .
Because of those results the Tennessee Department of Conservation convinced the TVA to agree to hold off on using the pump said the new plant. On March 2nd coal plants around the country complied with the coal ash rule and posted their own groundwater monitoring results online these revealed extensive groundwater contamination across the nation similar to Memphis’s .
But despite the coal ash success, the Trump administration has started the process to weaken it. The proposed changes could mean that coal companies would no longer be required to post results of their monitoring online or even bother to clean up contamination and that could be bad for Memphis and cities across the country .