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Posted on January 25, 2023 at 8:30 AM by Melitta Duncan
In 1972, for the purpose of planning for the growth potential of the City of Memphis, the City of Horn Lake, and the community of Southaven, the City of Memphis applied for federal funding to build the T.E. Maxson Wastewater Facility. In order to qualify for these funds, a designated number of users had to benefit from the sewage treatment provided by this facility, so the City of Memphis contracted with the Horn Lake Creek Basin Interceptor Sewer District for the Mississippi users who would help Memphis qualify. “The District” was the wastewater treatment entity that served the users in Horn Lake and Southaven. At that time, sewage lagoons were common in Desoto County and having a sophisticated gravity-flow system of lines to a treatment facility was a great improvement, so The District entered this contract with Memphis and Memphis was successful in obtaining the needed federal funding.
Who wakes up on any given day and asks themselves, “I wonder where my wastewater goes and how it is treated?”
No one, including me, until I was informed about this agreement.
Who knew that most of Horn Lake and Southaven are at a higher land elevation or slope than south Memphis and ideal for gravity wastewater flow into Tennessee?
Again, not me and probably not you, until now.
I tell you all this to explain why this agreement made sense back in 1972 and still does today. It also makes sense from an environmental perspective since after the wastewater is treated it is dispensed into the Mississippi River. The consolidation of facilities like this is obviously better for our environment.
Back to the contract…
So, Memphis and The District entered a bilateral agreement that was mutually beneficial. The contract has had amendments over the years, one of which in 1983 specifically allowed for joint negotiations of the contract terms after 40 years. This, unfortunately, has led to a current dispute between the two parties. Memphis takes the stance that they can unilaterally terminate the contract and future treatment service for all Mississippi users. The District takes the stance that the contract and treatment service was never intended to end, but instead for the two parties to re-negotiate future terms of the agreement which could include termination of services if both parties agree. Memphis cites capacity limitations. The District claims that original planning designed the system for the future population growth of 150,000 Mississippi users and the current number is only approximately 75,000. An official ruling is expected in federal court in 2023.
Why is this a colossal issue for Southaven and Horn Lake?
Currently, about 44,000 citizens in Southaven (75% of total population) and 31,000 in Horn Lake are serviced by the Memphis facility. To redirect this service, new sewer lines and pumping infrastructure would be needed to pump the wastewater out of the current basin over the ridgeline towards the Mississippi River to a new treatment facility in Mississippi or to an expanded DCRUA facility that currently serves other Desoto County households. By the way, DCRUA stands for Desoto County Regional Utility Authority. The most cost-effective solution is DCRUA, but comes with an estimated $230 million price tag which would require both federal and state funding assistance. The other key issue besides money is time. Projects of this magnitude take many years to complete even if there are no funding delays.
Finally, why am I asking you to read such a long, detailed narrative about wastewater?
Regardless of the results of the lawsuit, sewer costs will increase for my citizens. Currently, Memphis is being required to make significant improvements to the treatment facility by the Tennessee Department of Environmental Quality. Although they’ve contractually had the authority to adjust pricing for Mississippi users, they have not until recently. The price increase for The District is passed directly to the users, including us in Southaven. In Southaven, we’ve been studying this since Memphis’ public comments in 2018 with every effort to secure the most favorable result and control costs for our citizens. There are still many contingencies, but we will continue with this effort. I will provide more information and updates at the appropriate time.