U.S. Water News Online
OXFORD, Miss. -- The state of Mississippi has sued Memphis
for tapping into groundwater formations to serve the Tennessee city's
The lawsuit, filed in early February in U.S. District Court in
Oxford, had been kept under seal.
The complaint asks the court to order Memphis to start obtaining a
portion of its water from the Mississippi River, which would require
Memphis to build a treatment plant costing millions.
Unlike other water disputes in the Southeast that have involved
the use of rivers, the Mississippi case asks for repayment for
underground water resources "owned by, and subject to the right of
use" by the state.
The lawsuit names the city of Memphis and Memphis Light, Gas and
Water Division as defendants.
"MLGW's use of the aquifer has not harmed this vital resource in
the past, nor will our anticipated future use pose a threat," utility
president Joseph Lee said.
MLGW general counsel Max Williams said that contrary to the claims
in the suit, "our use of the aquifer does not create any liability to
the state of Mississippi."
MLGW withdraws 160 million to 200 million gallons a day from the
Memphis Sand aquifer. The aquifer is a deep zone of saturated sand
and gravel that filters the water trickling through it to a high
level of purity.
The Memphis Sand extends into portions of Mississippi, Arkansas
Recent studies have shown that the flow of water in the Memphis
Sand has been altered by the "cones of depression" beneath MLGW's
well fields, three of which extend to within about 2 1/2 miles of the
Mississippi line. Studies since the late 1990s have shown that these
cones, or low areas in the water table of the aquifer, have sucked
water northward from areas beneath Mississippi.
In parts of DeSoto County, the water levels in wells have been
dropping a foot or more each year, with the declines blamed on both
local pumping and withdrawals in Memphis.
In its lawsuit, Mississippi claims that one-third of the water
Memphis pumps -- about 60 million gallons a day -- comes from south
of the state line. This water is "unreasonably and unlawfully
diverted," causing harm to the aquifer, it says.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Memphis to halt its
"excessive" withdrawals and "use water from other nearby abundant and
available sources, such as the Mississippi River."
Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee embarked on an aquifer study
in recent years and continue to pursue research.
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