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Ground Water Institute Receives $500,000 Grant for Aquifer Study
For release: Aug. 15, 2005
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The Ground Water Institute in the University of Memphis' Herff College of Engineering has received a $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund a study to better understand the long-term sustainability and quality of the region's unique ground water. The GWI, with assistance from Shelby County, the city of Memphis and Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, in cooperation with stakeholders in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, and in collaboration with Arkansas State University and the University of Mississippi, will conduct the Mississippi Embayment Regional Ground Water Study over a five-year period. Congress also awarded $500,000 to the U.S. Geological Survey, which will participate in the study along with the three universities and local stakeholders.

Dr. Jerry Lee Anderson, director of the Ground Water Institute, said, "This is a major step toward answering many questions about our aquifer systems, for example, amount of recharge, critical recharge areas, the impact on our recharge of interaction with our local stream network, and identifying some of the contaminant pathways. We will not be able to address all issues in detail, but this initial award will allow us to develop a long- term approach that should begin to answer many of these questions."

Over the past century, the Memphis area has benefited from one of the largest artesian ground water supplies in the world. On a peak day, Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division and surrounding municipalities pump nearly 210 million gallons of water to more than 1 million Shelby County residents. The water-bearing sands beneath the region historically hold an abundant supply of naturally pure water.

The plentiful supply of pure water from the Memphis aquifer is a critical element in attracting and maintaining manufacturing jobs locally. These jobs include food processing, chemical production, paper/pulp and pharmaceutical manufacturing, all highly dependent on the sustainability and quality of this water supply. In the Memphis Metropolitan Area, there are some 84 companies providing 2,500 jobs with a $1 billion annual economic impact directly affected by the aquifer. Arkansas relies on this same ground water system for agriculture, primarily rice production; Mississippi depends on it for both agriculture and urban growth. Eastern Arkansas produces about 40 percent of the nation's rice. DeSoto County is the fastest growing county in Mississippi and one of the fastest growing in the nation.

The study being funded is the first step in determining a long-term solution to some short-term urgent challenges," said Ted Fox, Shelby County public works director. "Mayor A C Wharton's leadership has been invaluable in garnering the attention of our legislators. We are pleased with the congressional involvement and commitment to this critical issue by providing the initial funding. Their response to our request is a result of a unified position from the Ground Water Institute of the University of Memphis, Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, the city of Memphis and Shelby County Government that this study is imperative to the future of our community's water supply."

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