Amid Rising Seas And Record Storms, Louisiana’s Water Is Running Low

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana has a water problem. But it has nothing to do with its losing battle against rising seas, rivers that routinely spill their banks or increasingly violent storms that pummel its coast.

This problem is buried in aquifers deep beneath the state’s swampy landscape, where the groundwater that nearly two-thirds of Louisianans rely on for drinking and bathing is rapidly diminishing.

Groundwater levels in and around Louisiana are falling faster than almost anywhere else in the country, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. A monthslong investigation by the Investigative Reporting Workshop and WWNO/WRKF traced the problem to decades of overuse, unregulated pumping by industries and agriculture, and scant oversight or action from legislative committees rife with conflicts of interest.

Experts warn that all of these factors, combined with the effects of climate change, put Louisiana on the brink of a groundwater crisis that could resemble the water shortages Western states have long grappled with.

“Will restaurants no longer be able to put a giant glass of water on your table when you go in to have your seafood platter?” asked Craig Colten, a Louisiana State University professor who has studied water issues for years. “Will there be limits on how frequently you can wash your car in your driveway or water your lawn? These are the kinds of things that are commonplace in California. Is that part of our water future?”

Agriculture consumes more than 61% of Louisiana’s groundwater. Chemical producers and other industries use 14%, more than industries in any other state except California. The public uses what’s left.

Most states have regional commissions that oversee their vital groundwater resources. Texas, for example, has 98.

Louisiana has just two.

In Baton Rouge, the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission was formed in 1974 to oversee management of the Southern Hills Aquifer System, which provides drinking water for the region.

Not only has it been criticized by residents and public officials for being ineffective, but now it also faces a suite of charges for ethics violations. The Louisiana Board of Ethics recently charged five of the commission’s 18 members with conflicts of interest, because they are employed by companies the commission is supposed to be regulating. The five remain on the commission while their cases proceed.

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