La. groundwater program may need $900,000 a year to continue

The state will need to find up to $900,000 a year to extend its groundwater monitoring program past 2015, members of the state Water Resources Commission were told Wednesday.

The monitoring program is a result of a 2011 report calling for better information about the condition of the state’s groundwater resources. About $2.7 million from federal sources funded the initial three-year ramp up of the groundwater monitoring conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The program almost doubled the number of wells that could be monitored across the state from 279 to 473, said John Lovelace, with the USGS Louisiana Water Science Center in Baton Rouge. No new monitoring wells were drilled for the program. Instead, USGS accessed existing wells from various owners and operators.

While water levels are measured four times a year at most of the wells, hourly readings are being conducted at 32 wells representing 19 aquifers, he said.

“The importance of it is the water levels at each well tell a story of what’s happening in the aquifer,” Lovelace said.

Scott Angelle, chairman of the commission, said staff will be drafting a letter in the next month outlining the importance of the monitoring and the need for continued funding. Current estimates are it would take about $900,000 a year to continue all five components of the program.

In addition to increasing the number of wells being monitored, the program is also increasing the frequency for updating water levels maps around the state, he said. Previously, there was no regular schedule for when these maps got updated so some areas had maps that were 30 or even 40 years old.

Now, the plan is to complete updated maps for the major aquifers at least every 10 years. These maps are important because they can be compared with previous years to show water flows and where water levels have risen or fallen over time.

A third part of the program involves improving and expanding the monitoring of saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, especially in southwest Louisiana near Lake Charles and in rice growing areas. More saltwater monitoring also has been added in the New Orleans and Slidell areas. The saltwater intrusion monitoring network expanded from 96 wells to 146 wells statewide.

The fourth component is to conduct water quality sampling in areas where hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas production is either ongoing or expected to start. About 100 additional wells were added that will be sampled every year for any indication of fluids used in the process or petroleum products. In areas where this type of oil and gas production hasn’t begun yet, the information will give the state information on the condition of the groundwater before the drilling.

The fifth activity involves issuing water use estimates every year rather than every five years.

“We wanted to really improve our estimate by doing it on a more frequent basis,” Lovelace said.

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