USGS: Work on water models not ready

State Office of Conservation Commissioner James Welsh would like to see preliminary report results from work being done for the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission involving water levels and salt water movement in several layers of the Southern Hills Aquifer.

Commission director Anthony Duplechin said Tuesday that Welsh requested the information last week. The U.S. Geological Survey is doing computer models for the commission showing how different withdrawal rates from user groups, like the Baton Rouge Water Co. or industry, could impact ground water levels.

However, USGS staff said Tuesday that although the information presented to the commission’s technical committee is public, the work is incomplete and it hasn’t gone through the standard review.

John Lovelace, reports specialist with the USGS Louisiana Water Science Center, said it would be premature to base decisions on incomplete information. USGS’ policy is to not release information about ongoing studies until it’s reviewed, and the computer models are not at that point, he said.

“We’re uncomfortable distributing stuff that hasn’t been reviewed,” Lovelace told the commission. “That said, we will go to DNR and try to work something out.”

Salt water intrusion into the aquifer, a decades-old issue, was the main reason the commission was formed in the 1970s.

More recently, the issue has received additional attention from retired contractor Hays Town, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council and the Capital Region Legislative Delegation.

Hays and others have questioned whether the aquifer should be designated as a critical area of concern. This designation would automatically mean prioritization of ground water withdrawals first to public supply, then to agriculture and third to industry, said John Adams, an attorney with the environmental division at the state Department of Natural Resources.

Although salt water intrusion information is available, the only way to determine if reducing pumping in certain areas will have an impact on it is through the computer modeling that is under way, said Joey Hebert, environmental engineer with Georgia Pacific and commission member.

While the commission has received information considered public information as the study has progressed, it could be at least two or three months before the review process is completed and the computer modeling report can be released to the public, officials said.

Lovelace said USGS staff will meet with Welsh on Thursday to talk about what information his office needs and see if there is information available that would address the agency’s questions and concerns.

Jason Griffith, hydrogeologist with USGS, said the rigorous review process is why people can have confidence in reports the USGS releases, but it’s too soon for the Southern Hills Aquifer model report. He said a lot of information is available in previous reports that have been reviewed.

Adams said there has been a lot of pressure on DNR and the Office of Conservation since it was originally thought the modeling report would be out in October, but it has been delayed.

“The commissioner doesn’t want to be perceived as doing nothing. He wants to move forward,” Adams said.

The commissioner wanted a copy of presentations on preliminary information from the modeling work at the water commission’s technical committee meetings, he said.