CA: Water-bottling plant set to open in Miss. amid aquifer debate
As officials ponder new policies to protect the Memphis area’s groundwater resources, a California-based firm operating just across the Mississippi line is gearing up to produce hundreds of thousands of gallons of bottled water daily.
Niagara Bottling will begin production later this spring in a $78 million, 554,000-square-foot building it purchased in Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park, located in Marshall County less than three miles southeast of Collierville. The state of Mississippi, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the county all may provide aid and incentives for the company, which is hiring 38 workers.
Niagara initially will use up to 400,000 gallons of water a day provided by the Marshall County Water Association, which has two 650-foot-deep wells that the tap the Lower Wilcox aquifer. The additional consumption will almost double the amount of water pumped by the utility, but “it won’t hurt us at all,” said David Meadows, certified well operator for the association, which has 1,400 meters in unincorporated areas of Marshall County.
The plant’s opening comes amid renewed concerns about the local aquifers — especially the Memphis Sand — that provide high-quality water for local utilities and industries. In the aftermath of a decision by TVA to pump an average of 3.5 million gallons daily from the Memphis Sand to cool a power plant under construction, Shelby County officials and state lawmakers representing the area have proposed stricter regulations and new laws to protect water resources.
But the operation by Niagara, which also produces vitamin-enhanced water, sparkling water and sports drinks, will not harm local aquifers, said Brian Waldron, director of the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research at the University of Memphis. To the contrary, he said, bottled-water operations could help raise awareness about the quality of local water.
Less certain, however, is the extent to which aquifers could sustain further pumping if water-bottling operations proliferate in the area, Waldron and other officials say. Already, Niagara has indicated it might want to increase production in the future, Meadows said. “We haven’t guaranteed them anything for that.”
The Lower Wilcox is deeper than and distinct from the Memphis Sand, the saturated strata that supplies Shelby County utilities and industries with some 180 million gallons daily, Waldron said. But in Marshall County, where there is little or no dense clay deposits separating them, the two aquifers possibly are somewhat connected, he said.
Efforts to contact representatives of the Ontario, California-based Niagara for comment were unsuccessful.
Meadows said the Marshall County utility commissioned a geotechnical study of the Lower Wilcox that should be finished in the coming weeks. “What this will tell us is, the rise and fall of the aquifer and, hopefully, how much water is there.”
The center at U of M also is completing a groundwater model that could predict how much pumping the Memphis Sand could withstand, Waldron said.