More than one answer needed to long drought

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Several solutions are needed to avoid a repeat of last summer's scare from drought and they may include adjusting the Duck River Agency's charter, according to a consensus officials heard during a water utilities summit last week.

State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), who represents Marshall and Maury counties, hosted a brainstorming session at Henry Horton State Park on Thursday with dozens of leaders from water utilities attending with county mayors and other officials.

The next day, Ketron learned, Normandy Lake had retained enough water for its surface to rise to its winter pool altitude. It was 15 days after the first day of spring. Winter pool is usually seen as the low level of the lake in comparison to the summer pool level.

That's just one indication of the concerns over whether Normandy Lake will continue to be an adequate source of water for the Duck River watershed. The lake is the direct source of water for Tullahoma and Manchester. Releases from the lake's dam provide constant flow downstream, but its reliability has been questioned in the face of continued growth and development.

"It's not going to be just one idea" that will ensure water supplies for the region, Ketron said over the weekend while reflecting on results of the summit. "It will take two to three, but the consensus was to move forward."

As a result, the state senator anticipates leaders of the Shelbyville-based Duck River Agency will meet with officials from the Tennessee Valley Authority this month on what steps to take. That would appear to be making decisions toward a feasibility study on raising the level of Normandy Lake so the reservoir will have more water for growth and development.

That may serve anticipated needs for 15-20 years, Ketron said. "But we've got to look at the next 50 years," he said.

So, there have been suggestions for an 8- to 9-mile pipe from Tims Ford Lake, and a much longer pipe from the Tennessee River. Using closed quarries as reservoirs is another idea.

Implementing such ideas may work better with a fundamental change in the charter of the Duck River Agency from one that's charged with the responsibility to protect water quality and quantity. The river agency might acquire authority to sell income tax free bonds and serve as a water authority to control distribution, according to discussion among utility leaders.

As a member of the state Senate Environment and Conservation Committee, Ketron said this week he would talk with state employees in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation about what can be done. Ketron noted that it was TDEC that persuaded TVA to reduce the flow of water through Normandy Dam to preserve water supplies for Tullahoma and Manchester.

"If we have to look at changing the structure from a watershed agency to a regional water district, then we can do that," Ketron said, agreeing that time has run out to deal with it during the current session. "I hope in the next six-eight months we'll have some sort of blueprint."

Ketron organized the water utilities summit by asking coun . . .PICKUP A COPY OF TODAY'S EDITION OF THE TRIBUNE FOR FULL STORY.