Monday (Feb. 22) was a better day in Memphis. The sun was out, the ice was gone and thousands of local families found water, despite the scarcity of bottled water in the Mid-South.
Tennessee Valley Authority West Regional Vice President Mark Yates and his team of “co-conspirators” found more than 80,000 bottles of water to distribute as broken water mains and pipe issues made the city’s water supply unsafe.
In conjunction with local elected officials, community partners, Memphis businesses, TVA donated the water to support Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division customers, who, as of Tuesday (Feb. 23), remained under a boil-water alert due to local water pressure concerns.
“This was really a team effort,” said Yates. “TVA doesn’t just want to be a utility partner. TVA is a community friend. Water has been difficult to find after the extreme icy conditions created this safe water issue. We just wanted to make a difference, and we just felt like we could.”
Single-digit temperatures and a heavily stressed water system last week caused MLGW officials to call for a boil water advisory for the city of Memphis on Feb. 16.
A subsequent rush on cases of bottled water ensued immediately. Before the weekend, major groceries bore empty shelves.
The city of Memphis responded with a free water giveaway of nearly 44,500 bottles on Sunday (Feb. 21) at various locations.
By the time that water supply was depleted on Sunday, Yates and his TVA team had found more than 80,000 more bottles.
“We reached out all across the state within our network to find water,” said Brian Malone, of TVA communications. “Literally, our team found the water and made plans for distributing the water within a 48-hour period. Our partners with actual boots on the ground are distributing the water.”
Charles Ewing, CEO of Ewing Moving and Storage, was contacted by Yates to participate in the project by transporting water to drop-off locations for distribution.
“Memphis is our home, and this community means everything to Ewing Moving and Storage,” said Ewing. “I wanted us to be a part of getting this water into the hands of those who really needed it. Donating the use of our truck and getting the water to families was a small price to pay for a project so big.”
Initially, the boil water advisory was put into effect until Monday. However, an update extended the advisory “until further notice.”
MLGW CEO J.T. Young said water pressure will continue being low until Memphis’ pipe situation can be stabilized. Numerous reports of water-main breaks and burst pipes will not end just because the ground has thawed out. More pipes could burst as the thaw continues, Young said.
Water was dropped off Monday to seven locations for immediate distribution.
TVA is also doing its part to support the boil-water advisory and conservation effort. The Allen Combined Cycle Natural Gas Plant output has been reduced, saving more than three million gallons of water each day.
Yates said TVA will continue to look for ways it can help in times of crisis.
“Some may not think of us as being a part of Memphis,” said Yates. But TVA is not just an outsider looking to help. I am a part of this community. We are a part of this community. And any time we can help local families, we will,” he said.