Submitted by the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability

West Tennessee has abundant natural assets with its rivers and streams, beautiful open spaces, and valued agricultural land. Strengthening the quality of these assets will strengthen the region. With a population of 939,000 currently residing in Shelby County, land conservation and pollution reduction in air and water must be planned for future generations. By supporting Shelby County non-profits specializing in environmental initiatives, we can start to make a difference.

In November 2011, a major milestone was commenced toward planning for greenways and open space. The Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan (“Greenprint”), a plan to link the Greater Memphis region with 500 miles of greenway trails and 200 miles of bicycle paths, was developed through a planning process led by the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability. The plan involved over 4,000 people in a collaborative effort rarely seen in the Mid-South. The plan covers 18 municipalities across Shelby County and Fayette County, TN; DeSoto County, MS; and Crittenden County, AR.

The development of the Greenprint was guided by a consortium of over 300 individuals representing 82 organizations and jurisdictions from the region. The plan includes a comprehensive framework addressing how the Greenprint can bring broad benefits including improvements to parks and greenspaces, transportation choices, community health, housing and neighborhoods, environmental quality, economic development, quality of life, and social equity. Fundamentally, the decisions guiding the development of the Greenprint were made by the community. The establishment of the consortium and working groups and extensive community participation effort ensured this and involved particularly individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities. The planning effort concluded upon the publication of the final plan, GREENPRINT 2015/2040, in November 2014.

Natural resources are precious and should be protected to the extent possible. One of the most important natural resources in our area is water. Shelby County is blessed with a water supply comes from below the surface of the earth in the Memphis Sand Aquifer. The sand filters out impurities of the water producing nearly perfect water.

While we do not drink it here, our surface water is consumed downstream. Quality of the water must be protected for those downstream consumers, quality of life at home, and to ensure sustainability of water resources for future generations. In a large rain event, rain hits impervious surfaces like roofs or roads and washes away debris and pollutants into the storm drains. On roads the pollutants can range from motor oil to heavy metals from brake wear. Many miles of streams in Shelby County are on the EPA’s list of "impaired" waters in 2012 – meaning that pollution has altered properties of the water to the extent that it does not meet quality standards and cannot meet its designated uses. According to TDEC’s 2014 305(b) report, the leading causes of pollution are pathogens and habitat alteration, followed closely by sedimentation. From the list of assessed streams in Shelby County, only three are “fully supporting” and thus not listed as impaired. Those are Brinkley Bayou, Bull Branch, and a portion of the Wolf River.

Low Impact Development (LID) or Green Infrastructure is one way to address stormwater runoff in an environmentally sensitive way. It is in contrast to the traditional pipe system that has been in place for many decades where water is piped off-site and then treated in large detention or retention basins. LID techniques allow for the integration of stormwater management principles in a smaller scale and on-site. Examples of LID design are bioswales, greenroofs, cisterns, bioretention facilities, and porous pavement.

To address the pollution that is found in stormwater runoff, the Office of Sustainability with partners led numerous projects. They have educated designers on Low Impact Development techniques, facilitated a design competition, and built rain gardens. In addition, they are educating the public on how to build their own rain garden. In addition, the Shelby County Government’s Storm Water Management Program turned a seven acre overgrown detention pond near Holmes and Riverdale into a wetland demonstration site. What was once unsightly is now home to an ecosystem of blooming plants, birds, and dragonflies which can be observed from a viewing platform. The wetland can receive up to 750 cubic feet per second of stormwater runoff from the 408 acre watershed that drains into it. The water purified by the vegetation eventually flows into Nonconnah Creek and then to the Mississippi River.

The Pollution Control Section of the Shelby County Health Department operates an ambient air monitoring network in Shelby County, regulates industrial sources of air pollution, and manages an outreach and education campaign to educate people about the health effects of air pollution and how they can contribute to cleaning the air.

Shelby County, along with Crittenden County in Arkansas and a portion of DeSoto County in Mississippi are currently designated by the EPA as nonattainment of the 2008 ozone standard. However, continued improvements in local air quality recently show the area is now in compliance with the standard. The area cannot be reclassified to ‘attainment’ until after maintenance plans are submitted and approved by EPA. Those plans are scheduled to be submitted for each of the non-attaining counties by December, 2015. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA has 18 months to determine if the plans are adequate. Typically, EPA acts on these submissions within 6 to 10 months.

In October, 2015, EPA announced a new, more stringent ozone standard. That standard will not take effect for 2 more years, but the previously mentioned improvements in local air quality make it highly likely the area will be in compliance with that standard.

The biggest challenge to preventing land, water, and air pollution is getting residents and businesses to change everyday behaviors. Cutting energy use, recycling, planting trees, and changing transportation choices will bring long lasting change to our region.

The Facts

  • Water supplied to Memphis comes from underground aquifers that have been filtered and recharged through sand over hundreds of years.

  • In 2012, MLGW opened the first public Compressed Natural Gas fueling station in the region

  • MATA has retrofitted all buses with bike racks, GPS, and automatic people counters

  • Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for Shelby County in 2012: 24,159,256 Miles

  • Daily VMT Per Capita in 2012: 25.68 Miles Per Person

  • Miles of Bike Lanes in City of Memphis: 133.55 Miles (2013)

  • In 2013, the City of Memphis became the 500th city to adopt a Complete Streets Policy

  • As of 2015, Greenprint has been adopted in 18 jurisdictions.

  • Number of solar installations in Shelby County: 82 solar arrays

  • Public electric vehicle charging stations in Shelby County: 21 EV charging stations

  • Amount of energy saved in Shelby County EcoBUILD homes annually as of 2013: 1,398,679 kWh saved

  • Percentage of Shelby County Residents Living in Food Deserts: 16%

  • Number of community gardens established by GrowMemphis: 42 Gardens

  • Farmland lost in Tennessee annually: 100,000 Acres

  • Annual average recycling of traditional materials in Shelby County for 2009-2012: 36 lbs/person

  • Number of Project Green Fork Certified Restaurants: 58 Restaurants

  • Number of Shelby County Companies ranked in the Top 100 Southeastern Sustainable Companies: 5 Companies

  • The Kitchen Community has 27 learning gardens in Shelby County Schools, Jubilee, and Achievement Schools with a plan for 100 in the near future  

Additional Resources

2014 Sustainable Shelby Implementation Plan Progress Report 

Resources including Documents & Plans related to Sustainability in the region  

Current Projects of the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability  

Calendar of sustainability-related events