News Feature | January 6, 2017

Tennessee Utilities Seek Backup Amid Drought

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

tennessee reg new

The dry spell in Tennessee has utility officials looking for ways to secure their supplies in case the conditions persist.

Only 8 percent of the state is completely rid of abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The U.S. Agriculture Department says nearly half the counties in the state qualify as “disaster areas” as a result of the enduring dryness, according to WBIR. The designation means farmers and ranchers in those areas can apply for disaster relief funding. Dry conditions in Tennessee peaked in November and December, but the final weeks of the year brought some much-needed rain.

How are water utilities contending with the effects of the dry conditions?

The dry spell has “tested many local water districts’ drought plans, and has forced officials to rethink their drinking water sources. Some utility managers are searching for backup water supplies, eyeing new pumping equipment and exploring alternate distribution models, in case dry conditions continue,” The Tennessean reported.

Big Creek Utility District in Grundy County, for instance, is seeking additional water sources, the report said. Water-use restrictions were lifted in December following rain.

“We’re trying to plan for a worst-case scenario,” Allen Joslyn, an official with Big Creek, told The Tennessean. “The next time we have a drought, we may not be so fortunate.”

The Fall Creek Falls Utility District also sought to back up its supply. The district bought “emergency water” from South Cumberland Utility District last year, and officials continue to seek an additional source, The Tennessean reported.

Alternate sources will be a major discussion topic when state and local water officials from Tennessee meet on drought issues this month.

“State officials, water district managers and others are planning to meet on January 13 in Fall Creek Falls State Park to discuss the 2016 drought, how the local plans fared and proposed changes to the state's drought management. Some municipalities are searching for alternative water sources, but state leaders aren't ready to endorse any drastic changes to the distribution network, said [a state aide to] the state environmental official. At least one local official said the planning process was dragging on too long,” The Tennessean reported.

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