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Water rights: Industry, environmentalists, regulators clash on how to slice the pie

Baton Rouge Business Report

David Dodson

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The growing divide on the issue of how Louisiana’s groundwater should be managed was very evident today, as representatives of industry, government and environmental organizations shared views at a meeting of Leaders with Vision. Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré framed the debate from an environmental perspective by asking if it is reasonable for two industrial installations in north Baton Rouge to use as much groundwater in a day as the five parishes covered by the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission. Honoré was joined by A. Hays Town Jr., president of Baton Rouge Citizens to Save Our Water in chiding the CAGWCC for inaction over the years as the threat to Baton Rouge’s water posed by salt-water intrusion became increasingly apparent. “CAGWCC has done almost nothing” to protect and preserve Baton Rouge’s water supply, Town said. Tony Duplechin, CAGWCC director, defended his agency and countered the argument that industry gets its water “free” from the Southern Hills aquifer. “They pay (CAGWCC) $5 per million gallons of water” extracted, he said. Deflecting Honoré’s insistence that industry should be required to use surface water from the Mississippi River, Henry Graham Jr., vice president for environmental affairs and general counsel for the Louisiana Chemical Association, said, “Whose water is it, anyway? This water is not there just for the benefit of the citizens of Baton Rouge.” Graham said the last thing we want is for “government to pick winners and losers,” but that is precisely what would happen if industry in north Baton Rouge were required to make the huge investments necessary to take river water when state law already gives them the right to the water they have used for decades. —David Dodson