The McKellar Lake of the 1950s was a family-friendly hotspot, home to skiers, sunbathers, boaters, and the occasional beauty queen from the Miss McKellar Lake pageant.
Today, the once-popular attraction, mostly forgotten by Memphis residents, has become a dumping ground for trash since much of the litter thrown into the Mississippi River flows into McKellar Lake. Each year, clean-up efforts at the lake barely make a dent in the trash problem. But trash isn't the only thing polluting McKellar Lake.
Last Friday, the Sierra Club's Chickasaw Group held a demonstration on the lake to voice concerns about possible pollution from the Tennessee Valley Authority's ash ponds at the Allen Fossil Plant, which is adjacent to McKellar Lake.
Sierra Club members believe metals and toxins are escaping TVA's ash ponds and seeping into the lake from a runoff area located near the Allen Plant. The members claim the ash runoff is contaminating both the lake and its fish.
TVA spokesman Chris Stanley claimed the utility provider follows all state regulations when it comes to checking the lake for pollutants. The TVA provides power to all of Tennessee, parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, and small portions of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
"We meet all state-imposed regulations by doing regular checking on all of our waterways. Some of the standards have become more stringent over the years, and we have continued to meet [those]. Plus, we're not the only production facility there [in the area around McKellar Lake]," Stanley said.
The Chickasaw Group's demonstration was part of the national environmental organization's "Beyond Coal" campaign, which emphasizes the problems fossil fuels cause to the environment.
The demo also came on the heels of the release of a national report from environmental and clean-water groups, including the Sierra Club, that reviewed around 400 coal-plant water permits across the country. Tennessee's eight coal plants were included in that report, which highlighted the need for stronger coal-plant water pollution standards. The existing guidelines intended to limit toxic pollution of waterways do not cover some of the worst pollutants, Sierra Club members say.
At the demonstration, club members and their supporters took a boat to the Allen Plant. They also took several kayaks and canoes into the middle of the lake to present a banner, which read "Let's Move TVA Beyond Coal," in front of the Allen Plant. The Sierra Club has long urged TVA to shift its focus from fossil fuels to renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.
Scott Banbury, the chapter's conservation chair, said he would like to see Memphis become a more sustainable city.
"We're not known for being the most environmentally sensible town. You can tell we're making strides through bike lanes and community gardening, but in terms of really paying attention to water and air pollution, we're pretty slack," Banbury said.