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Court staying out of water fight

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to intervene in the State of Mississippi’s claims that Tennessee’s largest city is pumping too much water out of an aquifer shared by the two states, according to The Associated Press.

The nation’s high court did not comment on why it declined to hear the case.

The State of Mississippi had claimed that heavy pumping by Memphis had created a “cone of depression” in the aquifer that is drawing more than 24 million gallons of water out of northern Mississippi each day.

“The diverted ground water is being artificially siphoned from Mississippi and into Memphis through the mechanical operation of (Memphis’) wells, not by natural forces,” according to documents filed last fall.

Mississippi claimed Memphis had wrongfully taken up to 22 percent of its water supply from its neighbor since 1965. The petition sought an order for Tennessee, Memphis and the city’s water utility to stop the practice and pay up to $1.23 billion in damages.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office said yesterday that its lawyers are reviewing the ruling and there would be no immediate comment.

Tennessee officials were pleased with the ruling.

“We are gratified by the court’s decision, which recognizes state sovereignty in these matters and avoids protracted and expensive litigation,” Sharon Curtis-Flair, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bob Cooper, said Monday in a statement.

Attorneys for the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division have argued that their wells are not designed to pull water from Mississippi.

Hood went to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court in New Orleans last June agreed with a Mississippi federal judge, who threw out a previous lawsuit because it didn’t include the state of Tennessee as a defendant.

In his ruling in 2008, U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson in Mississippi said he didn’t have jurisdiction over the case because it’s a dispute between two states that belongs in the Supreme Court. A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said Davidson didn’t abuse his discretion.

Hood’s lawsuit claimed the water was being siphoned from a subterranean reservoir under DeSoto County, Miss. The aquifer, which also is located beneath parts of Tennessee and Arkansas, is the primary water source for both DeSoto County and Memphis.

The 5th Circuit rejected Mississippi’s argument that it owns the portion of the aquifer within its state boundaries. The panel said state boundaries determine the amount of water to which each state is entitled from an interstate water source.

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