Water Summit begins regulatory discussion
Sen Cain proposes bill to avoid depletion of state's underground water source

By JAMES RONALD SKAINS

A large group of experts and those people concerned about Louisiana's groundwater resources gathered for a two-day conference at the Lod Cook Alumni Center on the LSU campus on Feb. 12 and 13. LSU Ag Center under direction of Chancellor Bill Richardson and moderator Paul Coreil was the host for the Summit meeting.

Speakers list for the two days was extensive and included Louisiana Governor Mike Foster who led off the conference with one a to-the-point speech. The Governor said among other things in his brief appearance, ``I'm all for seeing a water policy for Louisiana developed, as long as it is based on science, not politics and is not designed to hurt any group of people in the State.''

Prior to the water summit, the Governor had appointed a Governor's Task Force to address the groundwater issue in Louisiana. In addition, the Governor and State Senator James David Cain from Beauregard parish, the leading proponent of establishing a water policy for Louisiana, have been conferring on the water issue.

Senator Cain, a former college basketball player and high school coach, was featured luncheon speaker on day two of the conference. Senator Cain, with his introduction of Senate Bill 1 has to this point defined the water policy issue in Louisiana.

``All around the State, people are calling me the `Water Boy', '' Senator Cain told the large crowd at the Summit Meeting. ``That is okay by me for them to call me the `water boy.' I'm an old ballplayer who once I believe in something, I'm going to hold on to it until it thunders.''

``I didn't really realize that we had such a serious groundwater problem in Louisiana until about 9 months ago,'' Senator Cain pointed out. ``How that came about was when I attended a meeting of rice growers and concerned citizens over in Lafayette who were concerned that CLECO's proposed merchant power plant near Eunice would rapidly deplete their water source for growing rice.''

``The real shock came however when we had a Senate Committee meeting in Ruston,'' Senator Cain, who has been a member of the Louisiana Legislature, since 1972 told the audience. ``These people were talking about their only source of drinking, the Sparta Aquifer dropping at a rate of two feet per year. This really cleared up the seriousness of the situation for me.''

``Another merchant power plant for CLECO was scheduled to be built near Monroe using ground water for cooling purposes,'' Senator Cain explained. ``However, after we brought the issue to light that our groundwater was fast disappearing, CLECO redesigned their Monroe area plant to use surface water at a considerable added cost to them. I applaud CLECO's actions.''

``Senate Bill 1 which I prefiled for the legislative session coming up in March sets a priority list for using groundwater in Louisiana,'' Senator Cain pointed out. ``Number one priority is water for drinking; number two is water for growing food; and number three is industrial use. We also have a `grandfather clause' in Senate Bill 1 that takes in everyone that is currently using groundwater.'

``Even with all our modern technology, one thing we can't make is water,'' said Senator Cain, who represents Beauregard, Vernon, and part of Sabine parishes in southwest Louisiana in the State Senate. ``I asked a Constitutional lawyer could outsiders actually come into Louisiana and take our groundwater. The answer was `yes' because by law, we couldn't regulate out-of-state use of our groundwater if we ourselves don't regulate the use of our groundwater in the State.''

``The city of San Antonio, Texas, which now has a water shortage approached, us about buying surface water from Toledo Bend Lake above the 168 marker level,'' Senator Cain revealed to the audience. ``They were talking mega-bucks for payment. Back in the 1960's, Mayor Schiro of New Orleans wanted to run a pipeline from Kentwood to New Orleans for a source of drinking water.''

Gordon Russell of Sabine River Authority pointed out to Senator Cain in a question and answer session that the Sabine River Authority currently sells water to a Texas entity at the rate of 350,000 gallons per day.

Senator Cain also pointed out, ``A recent U.S. CIA report states that the United States of America will definitely have a water shortage by the year 2015. We must act now to preserve what is perhaps our most precious natural resource.''

Senator Cain also publicly thanked Brad Hanson with the Louisiana Geological Survey and Bo Bolourchi with the La. DOTD for coaching him on the technical aspects of the groundwater issues.

The first speaker on the Monday agenda was Jimmy Palmer of Jackson, Mississippi. Palmer is an attorney in private practice, but for over 30 years was an employee with the State of Mississippi dealing with groundwater use in the state.

Palmer pointed out ``Government regulations and private property rights don't always co-exist. There must be some compromise based on a reasoned rational understanding of the issues and the solutions.''

``Louisiana has taken the first step in following a text book approach to dealing with the groundwater issue by having this summit and getting the Governor involved,'' Palmer said in noting the Governor's appearance and statement of concern to the large turnout at the Lod Cook Alumni Center. ``In regulating groundwater use, you first have to decide to either deplete or not deplete your aquifers through `groundwater mining' by establishing a hierarchy of groundwater usage.''

Ronald Kaiser of Texas A&M University was the second keynote speaker on the Monday agenda. Kaiser, who holds both a Ph.D and a law degree and specializes in water resource issues, titled his presentation: ``Texas Struggles\_State Experience with Groundwater Management.''

``Water runs uphill to money and thirsty cities,'' Kaiser told Summit attendees. ``Water is now more expensive than gasoline. Just take a look at the cost of bottled water.''

``In the State of Texas, we still operate on a 1904 State supreme court ruling called the `capture rule' in dealing with water resources,'' Kasier pointed out. ``This capture rule is the biggest threat to rural life because it allows water to run uphill to money and thirsty cities.''

``Your water policy solutions must be based on mutual interest of water use, not on private property rights which supports the `capture rule' that allows whoever owns the property to control the use of the water,'' Kasier elaborated. ``The capture rule treats groundwater as an unregulated private property right.''

``This legal precedent allows monied interest to drill high capacity wells and drain water from under your property,'' Kasier noted. ``Your groundwater management issues that must be addressed are as follows: 1. How to resolve the conflicts over domestic well interference caused by high capacity wells; 2. How to prevent aquifer over-drafting and promote safe sustainable aquifer yields; and 3. How to minimize aquifer mining.''

``Irrigation consumes 80 per cent of all the groundwater pumped on an annual basis in Texas,'' Kaiser pointed out. ``Municipal and manufacturing uses accounts for the remaining 20 per cent.''

Kasier, in an interview with the Journal had this to say in response to our question as to ``how does the water policies in Texas affect the forest industry in East Texas?''

``Water policy in Texas has little effect on the forestland itself only in the industrial use for processing certain forest products,'' Kasier replied before adding. ``With the expiration of the U.S.-Canada Softwood Agreement in March that will result in Canada flooding the U.S. lumber market with cheap lumber, I look for some of the large industrial forestland owners in East Texas to put in reservoirs and begin selling surface water to thirsty cities and industrial users.''

Following Kasier's presentation on the ``Texas Struggles,'' Ben McGee with the U.S. Geological Survey gave an in-depth look at the Sparta Aquifer.

``The Sparta aquifer supplies all or part of the ground water for 16 parishes in north-central Louisiana and much of south Arkansas. Large withdrawals for industrial use began in the 1920's with the construction of numerous paper and lumber mills in Louisiana.''

``However, in 2000, public supply replaced industry as the largest user of water from the Sparta aquifer,'' McGee pointed out. ``Current data shows that water usage from the Sparta has increased 37% since 1985. Recent computer models of the Sparta aquifer, show that if this trend continues that southern Arkansas could experience dewatering of their primary producing sands within the Sparta aquifer by the year 2005.''

John Lovelace, also with the USGS, Louisiana District followed McGee with an in-depth look at the status of the Chicot and Southeast Louisiana Aquifer systems.

``The Chicot aquifer system, located under 9,000 square miles of southwestern Louisiana, is the most heavily pumped aquifer in Louisiana,'' Lovelace pointed out. ``In 2000, an estimated 820 Mgal/d (million gallons per day) were withdrawn from the aquifer for public supply, industrial, agricultural use, and other purposes.''

``Over half that total was used by rice farmers,'' Lovelace noted. ``The Lake Charles industrial district used an average of 62 Mgal/d in their petroleum and petrochemical industries for processing and cooling.''

``In addition, saltwater is present in coastal areas of the Chicot aquifer system and beneath the Atchafalaya River basin,'' Lovelace explained. ``The saltwater extends inland as a wedge and is overlain by fresh water. As water levels in the aquifer declines, the potential for inland movement of the saltwater increases.''

``East of the Mississippi River, the Southeast Louisiana aquifer system is primarily used for public supply and industrial uses,'' Lovelace told the Water summit attendees. ``In 2000, 290 Mgal/d were withdrawn from the aquifer system, almost half of this water (137 Mgal/d) was withdrawn in the Baton Rouge area.''

Jackie Loewer, with the Louisiana Rice Growers Association gave a perspective from the Agriculture viewpoint; Buck Vandersteen with the LFA presented the Forestry viewpoint as did Henry Graham of the La. Chemical Assn. viewpoint of Industry.

Eugene Owen with the Baton Rouge Water Company discussed the aspects of Municipal involvement in water resources. Randy Lanclot with the La. Wildlife Federation was on this agenda as was Mark Davis with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana discussing ``Ecosystem Values.''

An evening reception at the Lod Cook Alumni Center concluded the first days activities at the Water Summit. The day 2 agenda of the Water Summit kicked-off at 8:30 a.m. with a presentation by Jay Grymes, the official State Climatologist of Louisiana titled ``Effect of Climate Patterns & Changes on Water Resources.''

The remainder of the day 2 morning session of the Summit was devoted to discussions of ``Water policy in Louisiana and Neighboring States.'' Bo Bolourchi of the LATITUDE detailed the ``History of Proposed Water Policies in Louisiana.''

Bolourchi was followed by Todd Fugitt of the Arkansas Soil and Water Commission who discussed ``Arkansas Water Policy.'' Dean Pennington of the Yazoo Mississippi Water Management District presented the highlights of the ``Development of Yazoo Water Management District.''

Mike Sullivan, based in Arkansas with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation service arm concluded the segment of the ``Water Policy'' agenda with a presentation focusing on ``Water Management Center Perspectives.''

Thomas Reilly with the USGS Office of Groundwater followed Senator James David Cains' luncheon speech on the day 2 agenda with a discussion on ``Groundwater Sustainability.'' Paul Eagles with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers followed Reilly's presentation with a detailed discussion about ``Available Surface Water for Future Needs.''

The next section of the Water Summit agenda concerned ``Water Resources Management Considerations for Louisiana.'' Richard Kazmierczak with the LSU AgCenter Dept. of Agricultural Economic and Business led off this section with a presentation titled ``Water Policy Alternatives.'' Bill Branch, Water Resources Specialist with the LSU AgCenter discussed the all important: ``Developing a Comprehensive Water Policy for Louisiana:What Have We Heard at the Summit.''

Branch later told the Piney Woods Journal that, ``Five percent of the annual flow of the Red River would supply all the irrigation needs for the rice farmers in Louisiana.''

The first Louisiana Water Summit concluded on Day 2 with a report by Karen Gautreaux of the Governor's Office of Environmental Affairs on the ``Louisiana State Water Policy Advisory Task Force'' and a Public Meeting Input Discussion session.

033 Senator James David Cain, the apparent point man on Senate Bill #1 with State Representative N.J. D'Amico set to handle the bill on the House side of the Capitol told the Journal; ``I'm going to continue to tour the State explaining what we are trying to do with Senate Bill 1 and getting input from people around the State.''

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