UofM’s CAESER Releases Results from 5-Year, $5 million MLGW Aquifer Study

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After five years of research, the Center for Applied Earth Sciences and Engineering Research (CAESER) released the results of their study on the Memphis aquifer, finding that the clay layer is not as complete as previously thought. The study’s results are available at caeser.memphis.edu 

Aa public forum will take place at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library on Thursday,  Sept. 21 at 5:30 p.m. to present research findings and answer questions from the public. This event will also be livestreamed on CAESAR’s Facebook page 

Memphis Light Gas and Water (MLGW), a division of the City of Memphis, had grown concerned about the condition of the clay layer (aquitard) protecting the Memphis aquifer and awarded CAESER the contract in 2018 to study it in parts of Memphis and unincorporated portions of Shelby County. CAESER’s research has shown their concern to be valid.  

“In the past, we probably thought of this clay layer as protective of our groundwater supply. It was a continuous layer of clay with a few holes in it,” CAESER’s director, Dr. Brian Waldron, told MLGW during an April 12 board meeting. “Well, we’re starting to believe that it’s looking more like Swiss cheese.”  

The study has shown an additional 23 suspected breaches for a total of six known and 35 suspected breaches. Though research is showing that the clay layer is not as complete as previously thought, Waldron says that the water is safe for now. He urged MLGW to continue to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to the Memphis aquifer.  

CAESER employed multiple methods for detecting suspected breaches. They used anomalous water table depression, chemical signature and age dating, computer modeling, physical measurement of water levels and stressors, and mapping the subsurface geology. The last method was in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey. This method works in rural areas using remote sensing to penetrate the surface. One of the suspected breaches discovered this way was drilled through to confirm the lack of clay, which now classifies it as a known breach.  

Earlier this summer, CAESER was awarded a second five-year, $9.75 million contract from the City of Memphis and MLGW to continue studying the aquitard in all of Shelby County. Some of the areas of research would focus on converting suspected breaches into known breaches, developing innovative technology for remote sensing breaches in urban areas, and increasing monitoring for possible contamination.  

More information about this and other findings from the research is available on CAESER’s website at caeser.memphis.edu. 

About CAESER:  

For more than 25 years, the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER) at the University of Memphis has studied the Memphis aquifer. CAESER is a research center under the Herff College of Engineering, comprised of professional staff, University faculty, and highly motivated students to strengthen communities by improving environmental and social conditions through collaboration and research. For more information on this or other projects happening at CAESAR, contact caeser@memphis.edu or visit their website at caeser.memphis.edu. 

Media Contact:  

Lucinda Scrivener 

Coordinator of Education and Outreach | CAESER 

Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research