By AMY WOLD
Advocate staff writer
March 20, 2013
A commission charged with managing saltwater intrusion into the aquifer serving Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas passed a plan Tuesday that calls for a 2 million-gallon-a-day reduction in the pumping of water in industrial areas of East Baton Rouge Parish by 2014.
The plan approved by the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission, described as a first step, was criticized by some as inadequate to address the saltwater intrusion problem. The plan focuses on two layers of the aquifer serving the Baton Rouge area.
The plan is part of the commission’s larger mission of dealing with a longtime problem of salt water getting closer to the freshwater wells used as a source of water by the public and by industry. The 1,500-foot sand and the 2,000-foot sand are two of the primary layers of concern.
Joey Hebert, the commission’s chairman and an environmental engineer with Georgia-Pacific Corp., said the plan is not the end of the work in the two sands or a long-term solution.
“This is a good first step,” Hebert said.
However, residents who attended the meeting objected to the plan as being too little to do any good and called on the commission to take bigger steps to address the saltwater intrusion problem.
“I don’t think this solution even approaches this sustainability,” said Hays Town, retired contractor, engineer and founder of the group Baton Rouge Citizens to Save Our Water Inc. “I think you need a bigger change.”
The problem of saltwater intrusion into several layers of sand that make up the Southern Hills Aquifer serving Baton Rouge and surrounding areas dates decades. In 1974, the state Legislature formed the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission and that group has been charged with working toward solutions to the saltwater intrusion problem.
As more water is pumped out of the ground north of the Baton Rouge fault, more salt water flows north across the fault and closer to freshwater wells.
“Basically, I don’t think you’re doing enough,” Town said. “I think you’re just fiddling with it and playing with it.”
Commissioners said the plan adopted Tuesday is only a first step and that more action could be taken when computer models the commission is paying for through U.S. Geological Survey are completed later this year. Those models will help determine what effect changes in pumping around the parish could have on the saltwater wedge.
Also included in the plan are “caps” on how much water should be extracted from 1,500- and 2,000-foot sands. The caps don’t represent a reduction in pumping at either layer and in each case are set higher than the five-year average of pumping from 2007 to 2011. The production from the 1,500-foot sands will be limited to 25 million gallons per day where the five-year average was 24.8 million gallons a day.
In the 2,000-foot sands, the limit will be 24.5 million gallons a day in Baton Rouge compared with the five-year average of 23.4 million gallons a day. However, reduction of 2 million gallons a day in the industrial district of Baton Rouge will result in a decrease of pumping to 23.5 million gallons a day by the end of 2014, according to the plan.
The difference of 1 million gallons a day will be available for a scavenger well or other needed pumping capacity depending on what computer models or other information tells the commission, said Mark Walton, a member of the commission and retired Entergy employee.
Although there is no penalty or fine associated with going over the caps on pumping, commission members said there are still consequences for not meeting that goal.
“The penalty is the plume (of saltwater) continues to move (north),” said Dale Aucoin, utility coordination project manager with ExxonMobil.
The plan also includes the Baton Rouge Water Company’s work to install a scavenger well by 2014 that would help draw off saltwater before it gets to other wells it uses.
“The idea is to manage the aquifer, not to cut out all pumping,” Hebert said.