Judge: Mississippi does not own disputed water in aquifer that lies under state lines

Published 8:27 am Monday, November 9, 2020

A specially appointed judge is siding with Tennessee in a more than decade-long legal dispute with Mississippi over the right to ground water.

Special Master Eugene Siler Jr. said he will recommend the U.S. Supreme Court find that Mississippi doesn’t own the disputed water, but that it is an interstate resource, the Clarion Ledger reported.

The two states are fighting over an aquifer that lies beneath parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Alabama and Louisiana.
Mississippi claims Tennessee is unlawfully pumping water from the Mississippi portion of the aquifer for use by Memphis residents. Since 1985, Memphis and the state of Tennessee have wrongfully taken more than 252 billion gallons of water — approximately 15% to 20% of Memphis’ supply — from within Mississippi, Mississippi lawyers have argued. They are seeking more than $600 million in damages and a court order stopping Memphis from using the aquifer as its water source.

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Tennessee and Memphis argue that the water does not solely belong to Mississippi.

In his decision on Thursday, Siler said Mississippi should seek equitable apportionment — a process where the U.S. Supreme Court decides how much water each state is entitled to, the Clarion Ledger reported.

If Mississippi refuses that remedy, Siler said the case should be permanently dismissed. His recommendations now go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a decision.