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Hood watching 'water war'

DESOTO COUNTY — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood says he wants to talk to his counterparts in Tennessee and Arkansas before deciding whether to continue a legal fight with the City of Memphis over water taken from an aquifer in DeSoto County.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Jan. 25 to intervene in Mississippi’s claim that Tennessee’s largest city is pumping too much water out of an aquifer shared by the two states. 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 created a “cone of depression” in the aquifer that is drawing more than 24 million gallons of water out of northern Mississippi each day.

“We anticipated that the Supreme Court may not accept our alternative request for it to accept original jurisdiction of the case,” Hood said.

“We were attempting to avoid including our sister states in the litigation against Memphis and Memphis Light, Gas and Water. Before we file the action, I intend to consult with my fellow attorneys general in Arkansas and Tennessee to see if we can reach some settlement.”

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

Mississippi claimed Memphis has 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.

“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.

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 upheld a Mississippi federal judge’s dismissal of the case.

In his ruling, 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 belonged in the Supreme Court.

A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel 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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