Chapel Hill looks to river for water supply

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CHAPEL HILL -- A multi-million-dollar construction project is being contemplated by town officials to draw water from the Duck River instead of relying on the town's well, a cave spring, and the county's water utility.

To further the idea, aldermen unanimously voted Monday to buy a preliminary engineering report from Griggs and Maloney of Murfreesboro, the town's consulting engineering firm routinely represented by Will Owen at Town Hall meetings.

Town Administrator Mike Hatten and other town officials planned to meet today with Duck River Agency leaders at their Shelbyville headquarters where they have regional water data and plans. The DRA was created about the time the Tennessee Valley Authority stopped construction of the Columbia Dam. The agency receives five cents for every thousand gallons of water drawn from the river and sold by a utility.

Chapel Hill's well and spring are low. When the town buys water from the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, Hatten said, its resale price is lower than the wholesale cost of water, meaning that the town is selling water for less than they paid for it. MCBPU buys water from Lewisburg, where rates went up this month.

"Perhaps we should go forward and do what we can do to pull water out of the river," Hatten told the board during its monthly meeting.

Drawing water from a river in this state requires a permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

If the Duck River Agency helps the town apply for a permit to draw water, Hatten told the board, "Your chances increase" toward getting a permit.

Hatten suggested a feasibility study to reveal the town's options on how to draw water from the river. The town administrator said the river is "an unlimited supply" of water.

TVA controls that supply flowing through Normandy Dam at a rate to maintain flows in the river throughout the year. River agency leaders have been considering options on how to increase Normandy Lake's volume, especially since drought threatened supplies to Tullahoma and Manchester. During that time, flow was maintained through Shelbyville and the south side of Chapel Hill for environmental reasons.

Mayor Carl Cooper reported he's met recently with river agency leaders.

"They want to do something for the smaller towns of the river," Cooper said.

Among the options to increase capacity at the Normandy reservoir are raising the level of the lake and piping water from the Tennessee River back to the lake, or piping supplies from Tims Ford Lake to Normandy.

During the drought, the river agency advocated an agreement reached between TVA and TDEC that temporarily reduced the flow of water from the lake.

Noting the agency's desire to improve supplies for Normandy and all utilities downstream, Cooper commented, "Those are just words, but they are the most encouraging ... that we've heard."

Utilities drawing water from the Duck River are part of the agency's technical committee. Spring Hill recently joined the agency. That city is paying five cents for every 1,000 gallons of water it sells to its customers.

Spring Hill also has a vote on river agency matters, as does Lewisburg, Shelbyville, Columbia, Marshall County, other local governments, and Chapel Hill would, if it joined the agency.

Permitting from TDEC to draw water from the river is part of the system that's being addressed.

"What's it going to cost to know if we can get a permit?" Alderman Bucko Bryant asked the engineer during the town board meeting Monday.

Owen: "We're talking several million dollars to do the construction, not for the permit."

The engineer noted, "There's quite a bit of interest in this," and Hatten indicated he thought government grants could be obtained to help fund the pipeline and raw water intake system.

Griggs and Maloney would charge about $5,000 for the feasibility study and plans might cost $15,000 to $20,000, Owen said.

Having heard supportive remarks for proceeding with this part of the project, the mayor offered a pun in his comment, "I'm dam ready for change."

Byrant was grumpy.

"Since I've been on this board we've spent $1 million ... searching for water," Bryant said.

Chapel Hill had "an open well," the long-time alderman said. The state wouldn't let the town use it because the hole wasn't big enough for lining. That well was closed. The city drilled again and couldn't find water.

Since then, TDEC has been encouraging the town to get another source of water.

"We ought to go ahead with the study," Alderman Tom Lawrence said.

Alderman Marion Joyce said, "We've got to have water."

If the town continues to buy it, then there's no control over the price, she said.

She moved to have a preliminary study conducted.

The mayor broke a tie vote to proceed. Voting yes were Joyce and Lawrence. Bryant and Alderman Henry Frame voted no.