Mary Tutwiler

Bill to protect Chicot Aquifer/Lake Peigneur advances

by Mary Tutwiler

A bill to restrict the amount of water withdrawn on a daily basis from the Chicot Aquifer in Iberia Parish has passed the House committee on Natural Resources. Senate bill 754 authored by Senator Troy Hebert is designed to limit the ability of Atlanta-based AGL Resources to scour out a storage chamber in the salt dome beneath Lake Peigneur, which if completed, will hold compressed natural gas. A group of land owners from around the lake have done battle to stop industrial development since 1994, complaining that the area has suffered enough from out-of-state companies exploiting local natural resources at the expense of Louisiana residents.

The bill forbids the withdrawal of three million gallons of water from the Chicot Aquifer per day to be injected in the subsurface in parishes with populations more than 70,000 and less than 75,000. Aside from thwarting AGL's plans, what Hebert's bill will accomplish is to prevent about seven billion gallons of fresh water from the Chicot Aquifer , the sole source of drinking water for 17 parishes in south Louisiana, from being removed forever from the water cycle. AGL will use water from the Chicot to dissolve large cylindrical chambers deep in the salt dome. Once used to scour out the salt, the water will become brine, and have to be injected deep in the earth to keep it from contaminating the Chicot Aquifer.

The aquifer has been heavily exploited by industry in the past. Within the last decade, Cleco built a merchant power plant in Eunice, and is pumping billions of gallons of drinking water to be used for cooling. Industries in Lake Charles have pumped so much water from the aquifer they have created a drawdown and caused the Chicot Aquifer to flow west. Farmers in coastal zones, trying to irrigate crops, have begun to pump up salt water in their wells because to the heavy industrial use of the fresh ground water.

Hebert's bill, which next week goes to the floor of the House, is a first step in safeguarding the fresh water of the Chicot Aquifer for its most important use, fresh drinking water for the population of southwest Louisiana. Other parishes, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Governor should take a good look at what the senator is proposing. Wouldn't it be wise to protect our drinking water now rather than ignoring the rationing crisis we will face in the future if we continue to waste our natural resources?