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Water & Sewer System Provisions

Reference Number: MTAS-829
Reviewed Date: 03/24/2023

State Oversight
Public water supplies and sanitary sewerage systems are subject to supervision by the state Department of Environment and Conservation. Such supervision includes approving construction plans, examining water samples, and enforcing regulations regarding operating and maintaining such systems. State approval of construction or other changes to the public water supply and sewage systems is not required if the state has certified that local approval under local standards is sufficient to safeguard the public health. T.C.A. §§ 68-221-101–108.

Financial Oversight
The financial condition of municipal water and sewer systems is monitored by the Water and Wastewater Financing Board in the state comptroller’s office. Board members, appointed by the governor, hear cases brought by the comptroller’s office. Generally, water or sewer systems that have defaulted on a debt, have two consecutive years of negative change in net position, or have negative net position in any one year will be referred to the board. However, in determining whether to file a report with the board, the comptroller is not to consider depreciation expenses if the water or wastewater system has a total equity at least four times greater than total debt. Several other exceptions apply. The board has broad powers to effect the adoption of user rates, issue subpoenas, and so forth. T.C.A. §§ 68-221-1008–1010.

Plant Operator Certification
The Water Environmental Health Act makes it unlawful to operate a water supply system, wastewater system, water treatment plant, wastewater treatment plant, water distribution system, or wastewater collection system unless the operators in direct charge have been certified as competent by the commissioner of environment and conservation. A five-member board established by the act is charged with adopting rules and regulations to govern the program, and the commissioner issues certificates.

All operators are encouraged to be certified, but certification is required of only one operator in charge of each system or plant. One operator may supervise two or more nearby systems when his or her work time can reasonably be so divided. Annual renewal of certificates is predicated on payment of fees and meeting any continuing education or experience requirements established by the board. A procedure is provided for revoking a certificate.

Safe Drinking Water
Water pipes and solder used in water systems and plumbing must be lead free. Each water supplier must identify and notify all persons whose drinking water may be contaminated with lead. T.C.A. § 68-221-720.

Water Withdrawals
The Tennessee Water Resources Information Act (T.C.A. §§ 69-7-301, et seq.) requires people, including local governments, that withdraw or propose to withdraw 10,000 or more gallons of water daily from surface or groundwater sources to register the withdrawal annually with the Department of Environment and Conservation. This does not apply to emergency or agricultural withdrawals.

Non-compliance with Drinking Water Regulations
Public water systems that are not in compliance with current primary drinking water regulations must notify the state Division of Water Supply within 24 hours of discovery and provide public notice. T.C.A. § 68-221-708.

Untrue Statements About Water
Firms selling domestic water-softening or filtration devices sometimes attempt to boost their sales by advertisements questioning the safety or quality of public water supplies. It is unlawful to make certain untrue representations connected with selling, leasing, renting, etc., water treatment devices. T.C.A. §§ 47-18-1201–1203.

Watershed Districts
Watershed districts have broad powers. They are authorized to conserve soil and water resources, contract for constructing public works projects, acquire land, promote and protect public health, take fire prevention steps, acquire water rights, distribute or sell water for irrigation or other purposes, provide recreational facilities, etc. The exercise of eminent domain by watershed districts requires approval of the local government in which the property in question is located. T.C.A. §§ 69-6-101, et seq.

Mandatory Tap-on
Any city that has issued bonds secured by sewer revenues is empowered to require connection to an available sewer and, after a 30-day notice, discontinue water service to compel compliance. T.C.A. § 7-35-201, T.C.A. § 68-221-209 (a) (1) (B).

Energy Acquisition Corporation Authority Relative to Water Meters
An energy acquisition corporation may install, read, maintain, and remove water meters for any municipality. T.C.A. § 7-39-302(17).

Cross-connections Prohibited
Public water systems must implement an effective program to eliminate or control cross-connection hazards. A cross-connection could permit unsafe or questionable water or other substances to flow backward into the water supply lines. T.C.A. § 68-221-711(6).