Energy companies and big industry are drawing vast amounts of water from northwest Louisiana. And the withdrawals are allowing salt water to move in, threatening the main source of drinking water for a growing population of more than half a million.
While climate change has brought an abundance of water to Louisiana from above, it also threatens valuable water below — the groundwater in the state’s aquifers that the majority of the population relies on for drinking water.
The Southern Hills aquifer’s water is clean and pure. Baton Rouge residents brag about its taste. And industries prefer it because it’s cheaper to access than river water, which needs expensive treatment. But the aquifer is being depleted faster than it is being replenished.
A centuries-old law gives Louisiana landowners “ultimate dominion” over the groundwater beneath their property. That means farmers, manufacturers and homeowners can take as much as they want, when they want it — no fees required.
Groundwater levels in and around Louisiana are falling faster than almost anywhere else in the country, according to USGS data and an investigation by IRW and WWNO/WRKF.
IRW and WWNO/WRKF analyzed U.S. Geological Survey Groundwater Data for Louisiana to determine the extent to which water levels have declined over time in the state’s public and private wells.
Over the course of 2020, the Investigative Reporting Workshop produced 20 investigations into subject areas we’ve focused on since we began publishing 11 years ago: Banking, immigration, health and the environment.
The stories IRW published in 2020 on water problems in Florida and California illuminate some of the many water issues prevalent in the country today.
One of the hallmarks of investigative journalism is giving people information they need before they know they need it. That’s how IRW’s drinking water project began taking shape back in 2014, when problems in the nation’s drinking water systems started cropping up.
Tooleville, California, and its residents are suffering from the effects of agriculture runoff seeping into their drinking water, while a neighboring community enjoys clean municipal drinking water.