Our Views: Water fights in wet state?

If there’s one thing we always thought that we’d never worry about in Louisiana, it’s water. Or at least, as Chip Groat says, about whether we’d have enough of it.

After all, the Mississippi River runs right through Louisiana, the only state to be on both sides of the Father of Waters.

But Groat warned that if not worry then new thinking is required about water issues, even here in Louisiana.

Groat heads the new Water Institute of the Gulf, the think tank that seeks to apply new research into water management, from the post-Katrina experience in Louisiana to the centuries-old dikes of the Netherlands, and to coastal areas worldwide threatened by rising sea levels.

The problems of coastal erosion and rebuilding of wetlands are well-known, although much research is still needed to assess the usefulness of reclamation projects and design other effective responses to the crisis on the Gulf Coast. But Groat’s talk to the Council for a Better Louisiana also noted the issues facing parts of the state — in fact, all parts of the state.

In north and central Louisiana, aquifers were under stress from heavy agricultural and industrial use, even before hydraulic fracturing — the now-famous fracking for shale oil gas — began consuming two to three million gallons of water per well.

The booming Dallas-Fort Worth area is looking enviously at Toledo Bend on the border, prompting Louisiana legislators to impose new restrictions on sale of water from the reservoir.

And in the Baton Rouge area, encroachment of salt into water wells is a concern, as aquifers are heavily used for industrial purposes as well as drinking water.

Groat noted that many people have contrasted, unfavorably to Louisiana’s capital city, the relative growth of Austin in Texas. But Groat, who spent seven years in Austin before returning to Louisiana, said people in the Hill Country are very aware that Lake Travis is 53 feet below full.

“One of the advantages that Baton Rouge has over Austin,” Groat said, “is water.”

If the state does not face the crises that have afflicted other places, he pointed out, leaders in Louisiana ought to see water policy as something that must be watched, particularly since responsibility for water issues is spread across several agencies in the state bureaucracies.

Maybe it’s a warning we didn’t ever expect to hear in Louisiana, but it is well-taken.