Water Wars: Mississippi and Tennessee Dispute Groundwater Use
Mississippi and Tennessee are in a legal battle over the groundwater that runs along the border of these two southern states. The dispute began about 10 years ago and has reached the Supreme Court as the states continue to disagree on this important issue.
Mississippi alleges that Memphis, Tennessee is excessively pumping water from the Memphis Sand Aquifer. This underground water source lies beneath both states but Mississippi claims that the overuse has lead to a decrease in water that altered the way the water flows underground. Water from the Mississippi side is falling into a depression in the ground on the Tennessee side of the aquifer. Think of it like a bathtub. The water is flowing from the Mississippi side and into the “drain” on the Tennessee side. Mississippi is asking for $615 million in compensation for the water loss.
Mississippi farmers are worried about how Memphis’s water use will affect irrigation for their crops. Every year the water supply diminishes over the summer months and recovers during the fall and winter months. The problem is that the Memphis Sand Aquifer hasn’t been recovering enough. Mississippi’s Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force estimates that the groundwater loses over a foot of water each year.
Tennessee disputes Mississippi’s claims saying that the states have no agreement about the water’s usage. Historically, Memphis has had trouble getting clean, quality water to the city. The Memphis Sand Aquifer was discovered in 1887 and has been an important water source for the area ever since. Today, Memphis pumps billions of gallons of water into homes and businesses throughout the city.
Legal Precedent on Groundwater Use
This legal battle is an interesting case that highlights the effects of droughts, storms, and other water disturbances. These events put our water supply at risk. The outcome of this legal battle will set a precedent for future water rights cases across the country. Currently, there are no national regulations about groundwater use, especially across state borders.
Groundwater is not fixed but is constantly shifting and moving so it can’t be clearly defined like property is. That being said, cross-border water management disputes and partnerships are not unique to Mississippi and Tennessee. Water on the Virginia-North Carolina and the Georgia-South Carolina borders has been caught in controversy.
Nebraska and Kansas have had their share of conversations about how water is shared between the states. The Republican River runs across the Kansas-Nebraska border. For years farmers in both states have disputed how the water is used for irrigation and agriculture. Nebraska and Kansas also share water from the High Plains Aquifer, a groundwater system that also lies beneath Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.
The legal battle between Mississippi and Tennessee continues to move through the court system as farmers are preparing for another year’s harvest. Regardless of the outcome, groundwater remains a valuable resource throughout the U.S. With groundwater resources at risk, experts promote sustainability efforts and encourage water conservation in both urban and rural areas.