With an expanded mission, a larger board and additional responsibilities, the retooled Water Resources Commission held its first meeting Wednesday morning in Baton Rouge.
Originally formed by the state Legislature in 2001 as the Louisiana Ground Water Resources Commission, the Legislature changed its name earlier this year to the Water Resources Commission to give the board more authority to gather information about surface water resources in the state as well as groundwater.
“We are one of only nine states that doesn’t have a comprehensive water management plan,” said Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, a member of the Water Resources Commission.
Although the new commission will continue to be managed by the Office of Conservation at the state Department of Natural Resources, its role in examining water resources will expand.
Previously, the commission dealt with only groundwater issues and had authority to direct the Commissioner of Conservation to put together rules and regulations for designated regional water resource groups.
While retaining the previous duties, the new commission will be tasked with creating an inventory of the availability and use of the state’s surface water, including anticipated future demands on surface water.
Scott Angelle, chairman of the Water Resources Commission, said the commission won’t have regulatory authority over surface water — instead, its role will be to gather information on the resource.
In addition to expanded duties, the commission’s board also increased to include new members, including representatives from the Ports Association of Louisiana, Louisiana River Pilots’ Association and legislative appointments representing residential water consumers.
In March, the commission, under its previous name, submitted a report to the Legislature outlining a number of issues that should be addressed.
Matthew Reonas, education and marketing representative with DNR, said action on some of the issues in the report, including the need for better groundwater monitoring and public education about water resources, has already begun.
“We didn’t really have a monitoring network that was robust enough to manage the resource,” Angelle said.
An agreement announced earlier this year between DNR and the U.S. Geological Survey will bring back monitoring on about 200 wells statewide, bringing the total to about 400 wells.
John Lovelace, reports specialist with the USGS Louisiana Water Science Center in Baton Rouge, said the USGS has been working with DNR for about a year to come up with a way to fill in the gaps in water monitoring information.
To help fill those in, monitoring of groundwater levels will increase around the state. The work will include updating groundwater level maps, some of which haven’t been updated since the 1980s, and some aquifers that have never been mapped, Lovelace said.
The additional monitoring will include more monitors looking for saltwater intrusion into aquifers and at the impacts of shale fracturing, also known as “fracking.”
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used to get to oil or gas in shale layers of soil.
The process involves drilling down to a shale layer and then horizontally applying a high-pressure water/chemical mix to crack the shale, which allows the oil or gas to be collected.
Lovelace said the monitoring plan includes looking for water quality changes in areas where the fracking process is in use or will be used in the future.
“There have already been issues in other parts of the country of some of this (fracking liquid) showing up in water,” Lovelace said.
The fifth part of the expanded monitoring will involve doing an annual water survey that looks at water use across the state, he said.
Currently that report is only produced once every five years, he said.