The devil is in the details, and there is scientific disagreement about solutions, but we hope that people can agree as we do with Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network: ''Our drinking water is a precious but finite resource that the people feel must be managed correctly and protected for future generations.”
How to do that? There is the hard part.
As everyone in Louisiana knows, much of the continental United States is drained by the Mississippi River through the center of our region. But drawing drinking water from the river, as New Orleans does, requires a hugely expensive treatment plant.
In Baton Rouge, drinking water comes from the Southern Hills Aquifer, which is suffering from some level of saltwater intrusion that has been recognized as threatening to drinking water wells. Some experts think that the intrusion can be stopped with relatively inexpensive “scavenger” wells.
Others, including the state Office of Conservation in a new report, say that potentially far more costly responses are needed.
Orr’s group wants action. What does that entail? If the Conservation report is accepted, reducing use — that would mean largely by major industries — is “the most effective way to remediate water level declines and saltwater intrusion in local aquifers.”
That’s not exactly encouraging for highly competitive manufacturers of petrochemical products that are sold in both national and international markets. Every additional cost counts.
However, there are differing views from scientists.
Two hydrologists from the Louisiana Geological Survey reported last year that Southern Hills is good for 250 years, so long as the intrusion problem is dealt with in the next dozen years or so.
The Conservation report, notably, stopped short of saying it might intervene through emergency orders on the issue pondered for years by the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission.
We don’t know if the commission is too favorable to industry, as some have argued. But we appreciate that the commission has asked the Water Institute of the Gulf, based on the river south of the Interstate 10 bridge, to develop a long-term plan for groundwater management. That might be a model for the rest of the state.
Our region’s long-term growth, indeed existence, depends on drinking water. And that’s as true for economic competitiveness in terms of water used copiously by industries.
If you have any doubts about the importance of groundwater management, ask folks in water-starved regions like California and Arizona. Louisiana is working on the long-term issues, for we think there is a recognition of the common sense in Marylee Orr's statement.
Water is a great asset for us. We should be willing to invest in its management and protection.