How Much is Louisiana Water Worth?

Water Resources Commission Members During “Round Table” DiscussionYesterday, I attended a meeting of the Louisiana Water Resources Commission. This commission, formed by the Louisiana State Legislature, has been charged with the important goal of coming up with a “Comprehensive Statewide Water Resources Management Plan.” Given Louisiana’s history of floods, need for coastal restoration, diminishing aquifers, and salt water intrusion into drinking water supplies, such a plan is extremely important. However, my take away from this meeting was that if we want Louisiana to have an effective comprehensive water plan, we have a long way to go.One of the most striking things that I learned was presented by James Devitt of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Apparently Louisiana has a program where if an industry wants to withdraw water from a river, stream, or lake (a public resource), they can do one of three things:1) they can just not apply for a permit, since it is a voluntary program,2) they can voluntarily apply for a permit and pay “fair market value” for the water , or3) they can voluntarily apply for a permit and then give an economic rationale why the water fee should be waived.Now what is fair market value? According to Mr. Devitt’s presentation, over the past few years, Louisiana has authorized three billion gallons of water withdrawal, and guess what the “fair market value” of that water was… $6,700! That’s right. That averages out to .0002 cents per gallon for water. Who is that “fair” to? Certainly not to the Louisiana citizens that own this public resource.On the heels of this enlightening presentation as to how Louisiana does not value its own water, and little to no talk about climate change or water conservation in the plan, GRN’s own Advisory Board member, Mark Davis, gave a sobering talk about how much water is being depleted throughout the country and the world. If Louisiana doesn’t get a plan together the water we use and are depending upon for coastal restoration, the state will see its own water crisis (if you don’t think we aren’t in such a crisis already).It is extremely important for Louisiana to develop a plan outlining how we will protect and conserve our water resources into the future. I just hope it will be forward-thinking and put the citizens’ (the “owners” of this public resource) needs for clean water for drinking, recreating, and appreciating nature in front of the ever-increasing and destructive thirst of industry.Matt Rota is GRN’s Senior Policy Director.

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