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Proposed freshwater institute
Proposed institute would be dedicated to understanding and protecting freshwater resources
Posted on 03/28/2019
Memphis could soon be home to a new research institute dedicated to understanding and protecting freshwater resources. The proposed Freshwater Institute would focus on the Mississippi River and the Mississippi embayment aquifer system, which, when combined is the largest freshwater surface and groundwater system in North America.

The discussion for the institute started in investigating cooling sources for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s new Allen plant in Memphis. One of the possible sources was drilling wells in the aquifer, which raised concerns. 

“The Mayor asked a lot of questions about what the risks were so he could understand, and what he found is that we really don’t have all the answers on where risks are in the aquifer,” City of Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said. 

Mayor Strickland began discussions with the University of Memphis CAESAR (Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering) and asked them to develop a proposal to help understand the dynamics of the aquifer and surface water. The idea for the Freshwater Institute was born from this as a research facility that could bring local and national expertise together.

Mayor Strickland and MLGW came up with a resolution for an incremental increase in the water rate that would generate $1 million per year as a source of funding for the project. 

“Our thought from the Mayor’s Office is where better to have a global center of excellence for freshwater than Memphis? These two very large bodies of water – the Mississippi River and the aquifer system that we sit on – this is the best place to have that global understanding of water,” McGowen said. 

Partners with the proposed institute include City of Memphis, Shelby County, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TDEC, University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Rhodes College, Lemoyne-Owen, Mississippi River Parks Partnership, Kresge Foundation, Hyde Family Foundation, Wolf River Conservancy, as well as Bass Pro and Ducks Unlimited. Together, they would work to tackle the region’s water challenges, investigating issues like water and food security, economy, transportation, recreation, human health, and quality of life. 

“It’s the perfect opportunity with the Mississippi River and ground water that makes it the largest freshwater system in North America,” Brian Waldron, director of CAESAR said. “Being in the middle of that places Memphis in the right place to do this.”

The Freshwater Institute would also serve as a learning environment in the water industry and conservation for local students and educators, with hands-on field experiments throughout the year. Additional opportunities could include sabbatical programs for professors, as well as programs for graduate students and seminar-based learning on-line. 

The Freshwater Institute would include a main office facility, an education and engagement space, and as the Institute grows, satellite sites across the region.  The Institute and its partners’ research and achievements would be showcased on Mud Island and be easily accessible to visitors. 

A public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on April 8 at the Benjamin Hooks Library for participants to learn more about projects aimed at minimizing contamination of the Memphis Aquifer. Scientists and research staff from the University of Memphis will be on-hand to answer questions. 
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