There is plenty of H2O on the Plateau — for now …
Commentary By “The Sage of the South”
“Water, water everywhere and not a dad gum drop to drink.”
That ancient ol Tennessee mariner out there got it right. While that may be true on the bounding main it sure ain’t true up here on the Plateau in lush Fairfield Glade. We have plenty. Enough to drink, splash, squirt and even waste if we feel like it.
With the drenching we’ve had so far this year it might seem more important to buy a kayak than to worry about water.
Sadly, it’s more complicated. The total water volume on earth is about 1.4 billion cubic kilometers. That, as most of you know, represents 70% of the earth’s surface. That can be misleading as the total volume of fresh water resources is only around 35 million cubic kilometers or about 2.5%. 25 million cubic kilometers or 70% of that is in the form of ice and permanent snow cover.
That leaves just 30% of total fresh water supply for plant and animal life on our fragile planet. The earth’s atmosphere does contain approximately 13,000 cubic kilometers of water but that will never be available on demand.
All these numbers are estimates but estimates carefully arrived at by some very thorough studies both by the World Water Assessment Programme and the UNEP. They are also averages as the numbers constantly change a bit as water is constantly recycled through the atmosphere. The usable freshwater number can also change a bit as we are forced to construct desalinization plants worldwide. We’re also getting better at reclaiming, filtering and recycling water.
All that does not come close to solving the fresh water problems in the world and parts of the U.S. Many people and children in third world countries are dying right now because of insufficient fresh water.
Some farmers in the southwest don’t even farm anymore. They can make more money by selling their water resources than they can by growing crops. The huge Floridan aquifer in Georgia and Florida is so depleted that salt water incursion is contaminating the whole blessed thing. They have had to construct a huge multi million dollar desalinization plant in Tampa and that is just the first of many planned to convert sea water to fresh water. Aquifer depletion in the US is reaching dangerous levels and at some point those aquifers will not be able to supply any more fresh water.
Like a bank account, you keep takin money out, sooner or later there is no more. Some southwest politicians are even suggesting a pipe line from the Great Lakes to the great southwest. So once the Great Lakes are drained then what will they propose? Maybe one day Georgia and Tennessee will go to war over the Tennessee River. Ya Think? Remember, not too long ago when Lake Lanier dried up? Thankfully this crisis has not visited the Plateau as yet but don’t think for a minute we’re immune. Even up here on the plateau, at some point we may be in a pickle for water.
Since we’re around 2400 feet above sea level we never will have water flowing from the valley onto the plateau. Right, water flows down, not up. The only water we get is from the Good Lord in the form of rainfall. At first this sounds like a liability and surely could be if we had an extended drought. To complicate matters, it has been estimated by the Corps of Engineers and GKY & Associates that by 2036 the Crab Orchard Utility District (COUD) would have difficulty meeting the projected demand.
Maybe not. If, we’re careful and smart we can save all the water we can and not let it flow down the mountain. So far, that’s been enough but just like the rest of the world, demand in Fairfield is growing and will continue to grow. That means some forward thinkers are needed to step up to the plate and make plans for the future.
We’re fortunate to have some of those at COUD. Folks like General Manager Everett Bolin, and the COUD board members. I know, there have been some rough times at COUD, some funds liberated the wrong way but that’s over. Even the missing funds have been largely returned. Then there was the low pressure issue on Peavine Mt. that was caused by mechanical problems. That seems to have been satisfactorily resolved. COUD has moved into the current century and taking care of the water we do have is of paramount importance to them.
Increasing storage, and treatment capacity are critical for sufficient long term freshwater availability. A couple of plans were considered. One was a huge 1800 acre Clear Creek water impoundment that would virtually guarantee fresh water for our district far into the future. Unfortunately this proposal would require the cooperation and possible merger of all water districts in the entire county. That would need to take place to obtain required approval from TDEC as well as necessary funding. Given that all of these independent districts are run by humans that have their own agenda, this idea has zero possibility of happening.
The proposal that seems most likely to succeed came from General Manager Everett Bolin. It is currently awaiting approval from TDEC. It’s not as large as Clear Creek but it will increase fresh water storage capacity by no less than 500 million gallons. The proposal is to direct 5% or less of the water flow from Daddy’s creek into an abandoned quarry in Crab Orchard. Surprisingly, the water flow in Daddy’s creek is so heavy that no more that 5% would need to be directed to storage and then only in months when flow is highest. A treatment facility would be constructed nearby to adequately supply Crab Orchard and its surrounding area. Once operational this would leave the current water supply from the 130 acre Otter Creek Lake for Fairfield Glade and its future growth.
As permitting has just recently been applied for this proposal will not be operational until mid 2015 if everything proceeds as planned. Funding needs to be secured, design work completed and finally the construction work. The engineering firm of McGill Associates of Knoxville is handling the feasibility, planning and engineering. Eric Goodman of that firm is on the case and feels that mid 2015 is a realistic expectation.
The importance of taking care of the water we have cannot be overstated. Droughts will occur. At some point they may become so severe that our water supply will be severely threatened even with this increased capacity. It is paramount that we take care of what we have. That could mean watering restrictions, even restrictions on drinking water. Is it possible that some Gladers could get their knickers all in a twist because their begonias are wilting? Yes! They will need to get over that. As nice a begonias are, people are more important and we can’t make it without water for very long.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Kumbaya moment up here and folks ran out to buy rain water storage drums? Imagine all the water we could store if even a small percentage of the homes had a 50 or 250 gallon water drum. It’s cheap and easy. The Obed Watershed Community Association is selling 50 and 250 gallon tanks at a great price. They are configured and ready collect water.
In conclusion, it is evident the district is in good hands. Nothing is perfect but things seem to be in control both now and for the future. The award winning staff at the treatment facility is first rate. Everett Bolin the General Manager is very concerned with the future and how to protect our water resources. He has the full support of the County Mayor and the South Cumberland Utility district. He also has the guidance and cooperation he needs from the Board of Directors. All the arrows seem to be pointed in the same positive direction. However, the current board members have been serving for a very long time. Would a little fresh blood on the board be a good thing?
The Sage of the South (SOTS) is a freelance writer and leisure professional living in Cumberland County, TN. He can be reached at: [email protected]