LEAN launches awareness campaign to save Baton Rouge drinking water supply

    A leading environmental organization is launching a new effort to address long-festering problems with saltwater intrusion in the Southern Hills Aquifer, which supplies Baton Rouge with fresh drinking water.

    The Louisiana Environmental Action Network unveiled the Save Our Water Campaign this week, sending letters to all Louisiana lawmakers and key elected officials and going live with a website. 

    The organization also sent out 13,000 postcards to registered voters in East Baton Rouge Parish—the first of several batches that will target all voters in the parish—detailing the campaign and calling them to action.

    The campaign comes some three months after the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released a report blasting the agency that was created 45 years ago—the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission— to protect the aquifer from saltwater intrusion, which is largely exacerbated by big industrial users.

    The audit found that the commission has failed to effectively regulate extractions from the aquifer, noting that since 1975, more than 14 years of freshwater that could have gone to public consumption has been used by big industry instead.

    The audit also noted that top industrial users of aquifer water in the Capital Area District are ExxonMobil and Entergy Louisiana, despite their plants’ proximity to the Mississippi river. 

    In its response to the audit, the CAGWCC said auditors had failed to take into account recent measures the commission has taken to address its problems, including working with the Water Institute of the Gulf on a long-term plan.

    LEAN Executive Director Mary Lee Orr, whose organization has been working on this issue for several years, says she’s heartened by any steps the commission is taking to preserve the aquifer, but that the purpose of the campaign is to heighten public awareness.

    “This is about solving a problem, saving a natural resource that is priceless,” Orr says. “It’s about everybody coming together to save a resource that once it’s gone is gone.”

    CAGWCC Executive Director Anthony Duplechain says he has not been contacted by LEAN and is not aware of the campaign.

    In a statement, ExxonMobil says it supports the Water Institute’s “scientific approach to researching potential groundwater conservation solutions” and looks forward to the first round of solutions, which is expected later this year.  

    “As of today, there is insufficient evidence to support industry discontinuing its use of groundwater,” says spokesman Danny Lee. “According to initial data from The Water Institute, future projections of population growth in Baton Rouge will be the largest factor in the increase in groundwater usage…” Read the full statement from ExxonMobil.

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