​SUD Drought Update, Lake Dimmick, Fluoride Questions

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Sept. 24 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, SUD manager Ben Beavers updated the board on the hot and dry weather’s impact on the water supply. The board also discussed the uncertainty surrounding the use of Lake Dimmick in a drought emergency and the upcoming vote on discontinuing fluoridation.

“They’re saying it’s going to be dry for the next two weeks,” Beavers said. “We’ve gone into ‘abnormally dry,’ which is the last step before it’s an official drought. It’s going to cost us in electricity, but we’ve still got plenty of water. For the year rainfall is five inches above normal. We’re not in a deficit.”

SUD pumps water from Lake Jackson into Lake O’Donnell and from there to the water plant. Lake Jackson is down six and one-half feet and O’Donnell two to two and one-half feet. Irrigation use for September was already nearly double than in August, Beavers said. On the plus side, SUD plans to do lagoon maintenance at the sewer plant since the lagoon levels are low. “The water evaporates almost as fast as it comes in,” Beavers explained.

Commissioner Randall Henley asked about progress on negotiations with the University on use of Lake Dimmick during a drought emergency.

“The University has been silent on the issue,” said Board President Charlie Smith.

If SUD had permanent emergency access to Dimmick it could drop tap fees by half, Beavers stressed. The greatest portion of the tap fee is dedicated to maintaining an adequate water supply. Providing history on use of Lake Dimmick, Beavers said following the drought of 2007, SUD entered into a $10,000 per year contract with the University to draw water from Dimmick in a drought emergency. In addition to the annual fee, SUD would have been charged for the water withdrawn. In September of 2013 the board decided the $10,000 per year fee was excessive and canceled the contract.

In the past year, Beavers talked with Vice President of Risk Management Eric Hartman who directed him to the Sustainability Committee to pursue the question about guaranteed access to Dimmick in a drought emergency. The Sustainability Committee has not yet responded.

“The entity most impacted by the high tap fees is the University,” Beavers said.

Revisiting the subject of discontinuing fluoridation, Beavers distributed literature provided by retired dentist Bob Childress. Smith said according to consultation with Childress, fluoride most impacted the developing tooth during the early childhood years.

Commissioner Art Hanson noted the research in the literature the board received cited studies from more than 50 years ago.

“I’m curious to know what the current research shows,” Smith said.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, the board will vote on discontinuing fluoridation. SUD welcomes input from SUD customers and encourages interested customers to attend the meeting.

SUD continues its search for a field crew employee to train for the sewer plant operator position.

For details see the SUD website at www.sewaneeutility.org.