While relatively abundant in surface water, the state of Tennessee still has water supply challenges. The drought of 2007 stressed a lot of municipal water systems, hitting rural water systems particularly hard. In addition, the state’s population is expected to double in the next 50 years, and for the state’s municipal water providers, that means planning ahead to accommodate that growth in a sustainable manner. It also means accounting for water supplies as integrated resources and managing accordingly.

Nashville Water Metro Services (WMS) dates back to 1831. The department is uniquely situated to address its aging infrastructure and growing population. It has embraced a one-water philosophy, providing drinking water, wastewater, and storm water services to the greater Nashville metro area. WMS Director Scott Potter explained, “Fundamentally, I think that the one-water approach works well. [WMS] is a water, wastewater, and storm water utility. We can control all things water in our watershed. That puts us in a unique position to coordinate and prioritize projects without harming a single sector of the water system.”

Like the city of Nashville, the state of Tennessee is planning for continued growth. A limiting factor to that growth is access to clean water. At the behest of Governor Haslam, a variety of stakeholders—from the Tennessee Municipal League and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to the agricultural community and environmental advocacy organizations—has come together to assess existing water data and paint a picture of current water supplies and make recommendations about the future of supplies in the state.

The impetus behind the state effort is to help communities thrive. According to Dr. Shari Meghreblian, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, “Tennessee’s recent economic growth and the reason it is a great place to live, work and raise a family, is due in part to industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and energy, all of which use our water resources. We need a plan for managing those resources that considers a broad array of perspectives, so that future generations can continue to thrive in our state.”

While the TVA is more generally known for its oversight of energy production on the Tennessee River, which has a watershed spanning seven states, it is the managing entity for water supply withdrawals on the river. Managing the river is no small feat. The TVA balances navigation, flood control, power generation, water quality, water supply, and recreation.TVA Water Supply Manager Gary Springston provides some details about river operations: “[O]ur river reservoir operating system plan, implemented in 2004, mandates how we operate the system to maintain a balance of all the benefits. We gauge consumptive loss every 5 years to see how much water loss we have in the valley from water withdrawals. We then make forecasts for the future.”

Service is as critical to the TVA as the technicalities of river operations. TVA Land Use Manager Tina Guinn noted, “One thing we pride ourselves on in the land use group is our customer service. Each time an application comes in, it is going to go to a program manager who is going to work with the applicant to make sure they are aware of all the forms and information needed. Then they will be handed off to the project lead.”

In addition to our stories on Tennessee, we also hear from Glenn Page of the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, which is undertaking its own sustainability efforts to improve both water transmission efficiencies and workplace opportunities. Blue Drop, a nonprofit spinoff of DC Water, consults with urban and rural water utilities to develop communications solutions to improve customer outreach. We speak with Executive Director Alan Heymann about the nuts and bolts of better communications for water providers. Finally, Andre Monette of Best Best & Krieger provides an update on the Clean Water Act implications of Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui.

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Municipal Water Leader and Irrigation Leader magazines. He is also president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations, marketing, and publishing company he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@wateretrategies.com