The agency tasked with protecting Baton Rouge’s prized groundwater, which comes from the Southern Hills Aquifer, is failing to effectively regulate withdrawals from the aquifer by big industry, causing saltwater intrusion and threatening the future supply of fresh water for the Capital Region.
That’s according to a report issued today by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which blasts the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Committee and affirms the concerns that environmentalists have had for years about Baton Rouge’s fresh water supply and the group charged with monitoring it.
“It’s troubling,” says Mary Lee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network or LEAN. “This is a confirmation that our aquifer is in serious jeopardy if we don’t take this seriously and start doing something about it.”
The report notes that while the agency has taken steps in recent years to better regulate water usage from the aquifer, it’s not doing enough to manage extractions, which have been found to cause saltwater intrusion, according to the United State Geological Survey.
Since 1975, an estimated 14.25 years worth of water that could have gone to public consumption was used by industry instead because of the commission’s failure to regulate, the report finds.
It also notes that after the Baton Rouge Water Company, the top users of aquifer water in the Capital Area District are ExxonMobil and Entergy Louisiana, despite their plants’ proximity to the Mississippi River.
The audit cites more half a dozen specific failures on the part of the CAGWCC. Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, who requested the audit, says it confirms her long-held suspicions.
“I wanted to make sure this group was doing everything in its power to protect our groundwater,” she says. “It’s clear that they’re not.”
Marcelle says the next step will be to demand that industry limit the amount of freshwater it extracts from the aquifer, a move companies like ExxonMobil have vociferously opposed in the past, citing the prohibitive cost.
The executive director of the CAGWCC did not return a message requesting comment in time for publication. But in its official response, agency management says the audit, “while constructive is somewhat misleading and does not adequately characterize the commission’s activities over the past eight years.
The response details steps the agency has taken to prevent saltwater intrusion and goes on to note it has entered into an agreement with The Water Institute of the Gulf to do a study and long-term plan.