Saltwater intrusion commission expects to have twice as much to spend in 2016-17 budget _lowres

 

The commission charged with addressing saltwater intrusion issues in Baton Rouge area ground water used for drinking and industry will consider on Tuesday approving its 2016-17 budget that is almost twice what it was last year.

The 2015-16 budget was $322,000 and the proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $620,000.

The increase in revenue collected by the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission comes from a pumpage fee increase commissioners approved last fall from $5 per million gallons used by regulated users to $10 per million gallons.

There are 58 regulated users in the parishes under the authority of the commission, including East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana and Pointe Coupee. The higher fee includes any customer using 50,000 gallons or more water a day with exceptions for those who take water out of the Mississippi River alluvial aquifer, agricultural customers and anyone using a well that’s less than 400 feet deep.

The money will be used to help pay for exploratory wells in the 2,000-foot layer of the Southern Hills Aquifer that runs under Baton Rouge. The wells will help determine where the saltwater plume that is slowly being pulled northward toward wells used for drinking and industry.

Critics of the commission have long argued that the best action would be to force industry to take their water from the Mississippi River instead of the aquifer. The commission has been reluctant to take that action and instead is exploring the possibility of installing scavenger wells, which are an attempt at heading off or change in the direction of the plume of salt water being toward freshwater wells.

Currently, the commission is testing two wells — at Lafayette Street and Convention Street — to better determine where the saltwater plume is located and how well it matches with computer models being developed in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The regularly scheduled meeting June 21 to discuss the upcoming commission budget and get updates on the modeling had to be rescheduled because there wasn’t a quorum of members present.

A special meeting has been called for 9:30 a.m. June 28, 3535 South Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite 135, Baton Rouge.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.