Water rights case before 5th Circuit

Published 5:29 pm Friday, July 25, 2008

The state of Mississippi hopes to persuade a federal appeals court to reinstate its lawsuit alleging the city of Memphis, Tennessee, is stealing Mississippi’s water from a major underground aquifer.

Attorney General Jim Hood has appealed a decision by U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson, who threw out the lawsuit in February on grounds that the state of Tennessee should have been included as a defendant.

Davidson said if Tennessee were added to the lawsuit, the proper venue would then be the U.S. Supreme Court, which referees such disputes involving states.

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Hood has appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. No hearing date has been set.

Citing Supreme Court rulings, Davidson said Mississippi can’t be granted legal relief for lost water until the Memphis Sand aquifer is “apportioned” to determine how much of that plentiful and pure underground supply belongs to each state. As a result, Tennessee, and possibly Arkansas must be brought in.

In 2005, the state of Mississippi sued Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division. The lawsuit claims Mississippi water has been taken for decades through wells operated by MLGW that pump water from the Memphis Sand aquifer.

Pumping from the aquifer, which also underlies parts of the state of Arkansas, has created depressions in the water table that, according to the lawsuit, allegedly have diverted 372 billion gallons of Mississippi’s water across its state line since 1965. Mississippi is requesting $1 billion in compensation.

MLGW attorneys argue their wells go straight down and are not slanted to pull water in from Mississippi.

Mississippi contends Memphis wells tapping into the aquifer have created large depressions in the water table. The depressions have diverted water that’s been beneath Mississippi for thousands of years, the lawsuit claims, sucking it across the state line into MLGW’s well fields.