Running up to deadline, officials spent Tuesday in a scramble to figure out how much water Baton Rouge Water Company pumps in East Baton Rouge and sells to customers in Ascension Parish.
Ascension doesn't have healthy groundwater reserves. Just about all the supply south of Interstate 10 is salty. The city of Gonzales is able to serve its residents, but Ascension Parish has a franchise agreement with the privately owned water company to provide service to the rest of the residents on the parish's East Bank, minus the few with private wells.
Baton Rouge Water Company, which dates to the 1880s, has a similar arrangement with the city-parish of East Baton Rouge. Company leaders see little difference between selling water to customers in south Baton Rouge versus those customers in Prairieville.
The water company provides what's known as public supply — water used in homes and businesses. Other towns with municipal water systems, industrial campuses, power companies, the state penitentiary and a few small entities have their own separate wells. As underground salt water continues to migrate north, Baton Rouge Water Company has publicly called on industrial facilities like Georgia-Pacific and ExxonMobil to cease their pumping and exclusively use river water, which must be cleaned before use. All three companies have seats on the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission.
As the water supply under Baton Rouge slowly fills with salt, some officials have called on companies like ExxonMobil and Georgia Pacific to s…
The water company's position rang of hypocrisy to groundwater commissioner William Daniel, who pointed out that they, too, are a for-profit business, not simply a municipal utility provider.
At the last commission meeting, Russel Honoré of the environmental group The Green Army said the answer is clear: make industry switch to Mississippi River water and prevent Baton Rouge Water from outside sales.
Before making any new rules, commissioners said they would need data.
The Groundwater Commission was to deliver the state legislature by Wednesday the inaugural report on the health of the aquifer under Baton Rouge. On Tuesday morning, they released it to officials and The Advocate, but commission Chairman Barry Hugghins wrote in a cover letter that Baton Rouge Water Company hadn't revealed its sales numbers, and that he has issued a subpoena for their records. Baton Rouge Water Vice President Hays Owen said the commission is overstepping its bounds, but the water company would agree to release the data.
In six weeks, the group in charge of the aquifer that serves as Baton Rouge's water supply is due to present a report to the state; what they'…
Hugghins received a spreadsheet of data by the end of the day, but as of late Tuesday afternoon he was still asking clarifying questions.
According to Tuesday's report, the only other out-of-district pumping is a pair of wells in West Baton Rouge that serve the City of Plaquemine, though they represent a relatively small amount, Hugghins said.
The Groundwater Commission oversees the district, which includes the parishes of East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, and Pointe Coupee — but not Ascension. All the member parishes, some state agencies and companies with high water use have seats on the commission. Baton Rouge Water Company is by far the largest user, pumping about 24.2 billion gallons in East Baton Rouge last year, according to Groundwater Commission statistics. Georgia-Pacific accounted for 12.6 billion gallons, Exxon's various properties combined for nearly 8.6 billion gallons, and Entergy for 2.8 billion gallons.
The Capital Area Groundwater Commission had a feisty, three-hour meeting Monday morning, the first full gathering since it came under increase…
The commission's other duties include taking steps to protect the water supply, though they've faced criticism for not doing more. They set the fee to pump water out of the aquifer; the current rate is $10 per million gallons. The commission would also be in charge of forcing people to pay up, but so far no one's refused, Hugghins said.