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Land of Confusion: Water Policy

Sue Lincoln

Louisiana has no comprehensive water policy, though DEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown believes it should.

“From a water use standpoint, I think there should be some overall plan that everybody contributes to,” Brown says.

But getting there? That’s the problem, as a bill debate during last spring’s legislative session pointed out.

“All three of our aquifers are in deep trouble,” Gen. Russell Honore’ with the Green Army testified before the House Natural Resources committee.

He was speaking on behalf Rep. Denise Marcelle’s HB 553, which designated the Southern Hills aquifer as an “area of ground water concern”. It also asked two industries to use Mississippi River water instead of draining down the underground river that supplies the capital region’s drinking water.

“Between Exxon and Georgia-Pacific, they use 66 million gallons per day,” Marcelle explained – more than the five-parish capital region uses for all other purposes. And the Georgia-Pacific facility north of Baton Rouge, which makes corrugated cardboard, is using two-thirds of that total.

“Much of their water is used on logs that are stored, to maintain them with fresh water on them,” Honore’ said.

The drawdown of the aquifer is allowing saltwater to back up from the Gulf, and intrude into the drinking water supply.

“They’ve got technologies available for them to clean that river water, just like the other companies do,” Honore’ complained.

“You said Dow and Shell are using river water?” Larose Rep. Truck Gisclair asked.

“Yes, sir, as well as most of the other plants along the river,” Honore’ replied.

Marcelle faced the arguments against the bill head on.

“Is it going to cost that industry money to do that? Absolutely. But is it the right thing to do?” she said, urging committee members to move the bill forward. “We’re obligated, as legislators, to preserve our water for future generations – as much as possible.”

But with a 10-7 vote, the committee killed the bill, even though Marcelle had reminded them of their duty, under the state Constitution, Article 9.1. It says,

“The natural resources of the state, including air and water, and the healthful, scenic, historic, and esthetic quality of the environment shall be protected, conserved, and replenished insofar as possible and consistent with the health, safety, and welfare of the people.  The legislature shall enact laws to implement this policy.”