Columbia Power & Water Systems (CPWS) is committed to providing a safe and efficient water treatment and distribution system for its customers.  Recognizing that weather patterns and other unpredictable conditions could impact the amount of water available in CPWS’ raw water supply, the Board of Public Utilities adopted a Drought Management Plan several years ago.

The plan took its current form in 2008 in response to a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) request that CPWS submit a detailed drought plan with its Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit —the permit that allows CPWS to pump raw water from the Duck River.  The drought plan was updated in 2011 and, again in 2016 to comply with recent TDEC rule changes.

The Drought Management Plan provides detailed descriptions of CPWS water resources and its management of the water system.  Importantly, it lays out trigger thresholds that will prompt water conservation efforts.  These triggers are based on the level of water in Normandy Reservoir and the flow of water in the Duck River at Columbia.  In a change from previous plans, the 2016 plan now aligns with the drought triggers recommended by the Duck River Development Agency (DRA) and the 100 cfs flow requirement imposed in CPWS’ ARAP.

Potential Drought

Federal, state and local stakeholders are already in the process of keeping track of drought condition in the state – especially during times that are unseasonably warm or very dry.  While Tennessee is fortunate to have plentiful water sources – such as our own Duck River – there continue to be challenges to our state’s water resources in meeting all the competing needs for sufficient water supplies, especially compounded during times of drought. In light of the emerging signs of drought conditions seen currently within some of our watersheds, the state continues discussions with potentially impacted stakeholders and are taking necessary steps to best prepare for a drought should it indeed occur.

As you know, the Duck River is one of the most diverse rivers in the world in terms of aquatic life.  So, managing through any drought is a very careful balancing act that speaks to not only the public’s need for water for purposes such as potable water supply, wastewater assimilation, navigation, and recreation — but also assuring the quality of the state’s water sources remain within the parameters necessary for protecting aquatic life. Efforts taken today will result in meaningful storage of water supply that will prove valuable in getting through the typically dry summer months.

What Can I Do?

Conservation measures will become even more important if drought conditions continue.  And if such time does occur, CPWS may ask customers to voluntarily conserve water.

It’s important to understand that drought issues are not just about insufficient water at the source.  Also playing a big role are typical warm weather activities such as watering lawns and plants, filling swimming pools, and washing cars. When a utility is working to meet the demands of its customers, both supply and demand are part of the equation.  That’s why voluntary measures to conserve water where possible are so important to the overall drought plan.

But conserving water at the tap is something we should all try to practice each and every day – even when drought conditions do not exist.  Here are some simple tips for our customers on how you can help conserve water – just a few easy steps we can do that will collectively make a difference in our supply of fresh water:

Whole House Ideas

  • Fix all leaky plumbing fixtures, including outdoor hoses.
  • Install sink faucets with aerators, motion sensors, or automatic shut-offs
  • Run washing machines and dishwashers only with full loads.
  • Buy appliances with water conservation features, such as “light-wash” options.

In the Kitchen

  • When cooking, peel and clean vegetables in a large bowl of water instead of under running water.
  • Fill your sink or basin when washing and rinsing dishes.
  • When buying a dishwasher, select one with a “light-wash” option.
  • Only use the garbage disposal when necessary (composting is a great alternative).

In the Bathroom

  • Install low-flush toilets, or put a one-liter water bottle in the toilet tank.
  • Install low-flow shower heads.
  • Take short showers instead of baths.
  • Turn off the water to brush teeth, shave, and soap up in the shower. Fill the sink to shave.
  • Repair leaky toilets. Add 12 drops of food coloring into the tank, and if color appears in the bowl one hour later, your toilet is leaking.


  • Water lawns and gardens sparingly in the morning or evening to prevent excessive evaporation.
  • Landscape with native plants, shrubs, and trees — they are adapted to periods of drought and may require less water than non-native ornamentals.
  • When mowing your lawn, set the mower blades to 2-3 inches high. Longer grass shades the soil improving moisture retention, has more leaf surface to take in sunlight, allowing it to grow thicker and develop a deeper root system. This helps grass survive drought, tolerate insect damage, and fend off disease.
  • Apply mulch around shrubs and flower beds to reduce evaporation, promote plant growth, and control weeds.
  • Add compost or an organic matter to soil as necessary, to improve soil conditions and water retention.
  • Collect rainfall for irrigation in a screened container (to prevent mosquito larvae growth).
  • When washing a car, wet it quickly, then use a bucket of water to wash the car. Turn on the hose to final rinse (or let mother nature wash your car when it rains).
  • Always use a broom to clean walkways, driveways, decks, and porches, rather than hosing off these areas.

Drought Management Plan

Interested in learning more about CPWS’ detailed Drought Management Plan? Download the document.

Drought Management Plan (PDF)