UofM CAESER Lands Five-Year, $5 Million Contract Aimed at Identifying and Addressing Water Quality Issues with the Memphis Aquifer

November 1, 2018 - The Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER) at the University of Memphis has been selected to receive a $5 million contract for a five-year period to conduct extensive research addressing water quality issues with the Memphis aquifer.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) has grown increasingly concerned over water quality impacts to our sole source of drinking water, the Memphis aquifer. Above the Memphis Aquifer is a protective clay layer which shields our drinking water from pollution, but gaps, or "breaches" in the clay have been discovered.

Through the determination of Memphis-area citizens and MLGW sponsorship, the Memphis City Council approved a 1.05 percent water rate increase, equaling approximately 18 cents per monthly bill. The rate increase will begin an in-depth study to find these breaches overlying the Memphis aquifer.

Jerry Collins, past president of Memphis Light, Gas and Water, championed the rate increase saying, "Memphis is fortunate to have great quality and very affordable drinking water. We need to do whatever we can to protect this invaluable resource."

"The University of Memphis is very fortunate to receive a $5 million contract to perform pivotal research for future generations of Memphians in order to protect our drinking water," said UofM President M. David Rudd. "The Memphis aquifer is an important natural resource that needs protection. I am extremely grateful for the continued diligent work of the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research at the UofM and am excited for their much-needed findings that will impact our city."

CAESER is tasked with finding more breaches in our clay layer, subsurface mapping of the aquifer and determining how water use patterns impact groundwater contamination around the breaches. These gaps in the clay layer exist naturally and cannot be filled due to their size and depth below ground. CAESER is a multi-disciplinary center, housed in the Herff College of Engineering, which will collaborate with experts from other colleges and departments and likely other institutions.

"These breaches pose a risk to the excellent water quality of the Memphis aquifer whereby contaminants are able to bypass the protective nature of the confining clay and enter the aquifer," said Dr. Brian Waldron, director of CAESER. "Over the next five years, we will bring the brightest student minds from around the world to the University of Memphis to tackle the problems we face."

The five-year, $5 million budget infused with University dollars will allow CAESER to support at least 30 graduate students to investigate breaches within the MLGW water service area. The grant does not cover the municipalities of Germantown, Cordova, Collierville or Bartlett, although the breaches could continue into those service areas. CAESER is stressing the importance of this work to the other municipalities and hopes to expand current contracts to address the issues.

Friends of the University will be assisting CAESER to approach local companies and industries who call Memphis home – a portion of whom are major water users themselves – to raise an equal match to what the citizens are presently giving annually through the MLGW water rate increase. These additional funds will allow CAESER to target another impeding concern: are we withdrawing groundwater faster than the rate of natural replenishment?

CAESER is a multi-disciplinary research center at the University of Memphis. Graduate students and PhD candidates in the engineering or earth sciences fields who are interested in working on this project may email caeser@memphis.edu for information on applying.

For more information on this contract, contact research@memphis.edu. For more information on CAESER, visit its website.