TN steering committee to develop water plan for current, future needs


By Denise Paige
TML Government Relations

It has been said that water is the new gold. In addition to being essential to human health and the environment, it is also vital to food production, as an energy source, and essential to thriving businesses.

Recently, water issues have stepped into the spotlight nationwide. Drought in the West and Southeast; lead contamination in Flint, Mich.; and “water wars” between states over rights to water, like the Mississippi River, have emphasized the necessity and value of this natural resource.

TN H20 is Gov. Bill Haslam’s water planning initiative to address water-related issues in TN. The TN H2O steering committee recently met in January to begin efforts to assess the state’s current water resources and to develop recommendations to ensure that Tennessee will have adequate water resources to support future population growth and economic needs.

The committee consists of members representing all levels of governments, agriculture, industry, academia, environmental groups, and public utilities. Bo Perkinson, Athens councilmember and president of the Tennessee Municipal League (TML), and Jim Strickland, Memphis mayor, represent municipalities on the steering committee. Jim Henry, deputy to the governor, serves as the chairman. The committee is charged with submitting a draft of the plan to Gov. Haslam, and will make it available for public input by October 2018.

“Abundant, clean water has been a strategic advantage for Tennessee and is critical to our quality of life,” Haslam said. “We need to ensure this critical natural resource is managed appropriately as our state continues to grow and prosper.”

Tennessee’s population is estimated to double in the next 50 years, which makes it imperative to be proactive to address water supply, water rights, and issues associated with the failure of aging drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in the state.

Much of today’s water infrastructure dates back to the late 1800s/early 1900s. The lifespan of these pipes is typically 75 to 100 years, which means that many of the state’s water mains, pipelines, and pumps, are in dire need of replacement or updating. Leaky and corroded pipes can cause water waste, damage to surrounding areas like flooded buildings and roads, contaminated drinking water, and disruptions in service.

The committee discussed key water-related challenges to each stakeholder’s area of expertise, along with potential solutions to address current and future water needs. It also identified opportunities and action items the plan should address as a state.
Moving forward, stakeholders will also focus on surface and groundwater, water and wastewater infrastructure, natural resources, institutional and legal frameworks, and technical matters.

Input from leaders on the steering committee is imperative to solving current and future water challenges in the state. Developing a statewide water plan will allow Tennessee to understand and to strategically prioritize its water needs.

More information about TN H20, including a list of other members on the steering committee, can be found at