The Memphis Sand Aquifer – Four Inconvenient Truths

The city of Memphis, and many residents in North Mississippi and parts of Arkansas are blessed to get their water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer (MSA). This water is without question one of the best, cleanest, and most delicious tasting in the world. Scientists estimate the aquifer holds as much as 100 trillion gallons of water, which is essentially equal to Lake Erie.

People in Memphis love their water. The local university has a group dedicated to studying it, as well as a local volunteer group called “Save Our Aquifer” that is dedicated to keeping it clean. Unfortunately, while the caretakers of the MSA have their heart in the right place, their lack of understanding of water, pollution and filtration, leave Memphis vulnerable if not to a catastrophic water event, certainly to a crisis that will, one day leave the area without sufficient clean drinking water.

The MSA is a dying aquifer and one day, while perhaps very far off into the future, it will no longer be able to sustain Memphis and the surrounding communities. Let’s take a look at why that is.

  1. The stormwater that filled the aquifer 2000 years ago was pristine. Conversely, the rains and stormwater that fill the aquifer today are full of every nasty chemical and biological contaminant imaginable. Road oil, gas and tar, fertilizer and pesticides, animal feces, landfill leachate, solvents, paint, mercury from CFL bulbs, you name it, our stormwater picks it up and then fills the aquifer. There is no debate. As time proceeds the aquifer is being filled with contaminants.
  2. The Memphis Sand which people believe protects the aquifer and cleans the recharging water has absolutely no ability to remove chemical toxins. It cannot remove toxic metals, dangerous organic compounds, nor things like PFAS or Microplastics. The water passing through the sand and into the aquifer is contaminated and it is not suitable to drink. If you believe otherwise, I invite you to collect a glass of storm water the next time it rains heavily, filter it with sand and then drink it.
  3. The Memphis Sand can filter at best, down to 10 microns. What this means is that contaminants like asbestos dust, fiber glass, copier toner, antiperspirant and spores are freely passing into the MSA. Every time it rains, contaminated water enters the aquifer. Memphis residents are in a hypnotic trance believing that the Memphis Sand protects their drinking water. While the sand does filter out particulate matter like dirt and silt, and over a great depth can filter out bacteria, the sand does nothing to remove toxic metals and organic compounds.
  4. The Memphis Sand is a filtration media. This means that over time it traps more and more sediment and particles. Like every other filtration media, as the Memphis Sand catches and accumulates debris it will plug up, thereby becoming  resistant to flow and eventually grow to be so plugged that new stormwater will not be able to pass through it. At this time new water will be blocked from entering the aquifer. The MSA will eventually experience an overall diminished filling rate. At some point the rate of pumping for usage will be larger than the recharge rate, At some point, the MSA will be void of water.

We suffer never ending wild fires that take lives and property, yet ocean water has been readily available to be piped and sun-desalinated to those areas for decades. California tosses billions of gallons of fresh rain water and snowmelt into the Earth because they are too stupid to build more reservoirs to hold it. In Memphis, a bountiful Mississippi River cries out, “I am here as a back up” while the “geniuses” making water decisions have absolutely no water plan for the days when the Memphis Sand Aquifer is no more. And make no mistake, that aquifer is dying.

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