Sen. Akbari files clean drinking water bill to protect Memphis water supply
Pipeline debate inspires preservation measures for Memphis Sand aquifer, the source of drinking water for 1 million people
MEMPHIS — Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) will soon introduce legislation to protect the health of the Memphis Sand aquifer — the source of clean drinking water for more than a million people.
“No matter where you live, we want our families to have clean drinking water and, right now, Memphis has one of the best public water supplies in the nation thanks to the Memphis Sand aquifer,” Sen. Akbari says. “But even though this is one of the most valuable natural resources on the planet, there are almost no ironclad protections that ensure that the aquifer will be healthy for generations to come.”
The health of Shelby County’s only source of drinking water has been a point of contention between some members of the community and the oil companies seeking a to construct the Byhalia Connection Pipeline—a crude oil pipeline system that will run nearly 49 miles from Memphis to Marshall County, Miss.
While the oil companies, Plains All American and Valero, appear to have followed all relevant state and federal laws and the Nationwide Permit 12 process, some families still think the process has unfolded too fast and that an unforeseen event could cause crude oil to seep into the aquifer and taint Memphis’ supply of fresh drinking water.
“People are frustrated because they don’t feel like the law has worked to protect their interests, their family or their community,” Sen. Akbari said. “That means we have to change the laws.”
Repeating her call for reform from last fall, Sen. Akbari is once again urging federal officials to take on the Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12, which allows private companies to fast-track some infrastructure projects.
“Along with many others, I am encouraging the Biden administration to reform the Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12,” Sen. Akbari says. “There is no national or local interest in allowing developers to bypass the safeguards included in the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.”
But there’s also work than can be done in Tennessee to protect the aquifer and the property rights of Tennesseans. Sen. Akbari has filed two bills to bolster state laws.
“The citizens of Memphis have made it crystal clear: we need to strengthen the state laws protecting our drinking water,” Sen. Akbari says. “Shelby County and the City of Memphis have a right to clean drinking water and a right to protect our clean water supply. The aquifer is essential to the health and well being of nearly one million people and protecting this natural resource, which cannot be replaced, must be a top priority.”
Senate Bill 1492 would empower local leaders to conserve the underground water supply by requiring more comprehensive environmental studies prior to approving large utility projects. It would also enhance monitoring for the health of the aquifer and water usage.
“No matter how many safety precautions are taken, we know from experience that accidents happen and disaster can strike,” Akbari says. “Families should have peace of mind that government is watching and protecting our public water supply for spoiling or exploitation.”
Senate Bill 1421, co-sponsored with Rep. Barbara Cooper, would reform the eminent domain laws that private corporations sometimes utilize to acquire private property.
“Homeowners don’t have the resources to fight a court battle with a giant company so the law should give small property owners stronger legal footing to protect their investments,” Akbari says.