A Case History of Use and Management of the Baton Rouge Fresh Water Aquifer System

Hays Town, hays@hays.town

The Southern Hills Aquifer located in southeastern Louisiana has provided residents of Baton Rouge and surrounding communities with high-quality, fresh drinking water for many decades. However in recent years increasing pumping rates, evidence of saltwater intrusion, and concerns about the equitable and sustainable use of the aquifer have led residents and researchers to begin to examine more critically how groundwater is managed in this area. Louisiana is one of only six states without a groundwater management plan, and to date, the officials in charge of monitoring the Southern Hills Aquifer have not developed any guidelines for limiting withdrawal. This thesis presents a detailed case study of the use and management of the Southern Hills Aquifer in Baton Rouge. Specifically, these research questions will be addressed:
1) What is the state of the Southern Hills Aquifer system concerning salt-water intrusion?;
2) What is the current State management structure for the aquifer?
3) How may a new organization based on the principles of collaborative environmental planning improve the structure of groundwater management in Baton Rouge?
A review of technical reports by the US Geological Survey and others indicates that saltwater intrusion into the aquifer has occurred and is spreading at an increasing rate. The state groundwater management structure includes two organizations. Legal responsibility for management of the aquifer lies with the Louisiana State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through the Office of the Commissioner of Conservation, while the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission appears to function as a permanent task force, holding quarterly public meetings concerning groundwater issues.
In 2011, a small group of residents formed the Baton Rouge Citizens to Save Our Water, Inc. The group seeks to promote collaborative environmental planning principles and, as a first step, is working to disseminate technical information about the Aquifer and to encourage residents to lobby for a groundwater management plan that limits industries’ use of the water. The case study includes a detailed timeline of the interactions between the citizens group and state groundwater officials. A review of subsequent public statements by the officials indicates that the citizen group has been successful in moving the policy debate toward a more comprehensive groundwater management plan.

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