ALEXANDRIA, La. — LSU AgCenter water resource specialist Bill Branch and several AgCenter watershed agents recently echoed the need for Louisiana to reduce its consumption of groundwater and its depletion of aquifers. Their comments about dependence on groundwater and practicing water conservation, as well as suggestions about shifting from groundwater to increased use of surface water supplies, came during a technical training session at the 18th annual meeting of the Louisiana Rural Water Association earlier this summer in Alexandria.

"Water levels in the Sparta, Chicot and Southern Hills aquifer systems are declining at rates greater than 1 foot per year," Branch said during the session. "And concern for sustainability of these aquifers is driving the current effort to establish groundwater management policy in Louisiana."

Realizing that people in Alexandria are concerned about the city's study to determine the feasibility of using surface water from the Red River, Branch pointed out that citizens in the city of New Orleans have been drinking water from the Mississippi River for years — and that its water has won blind taste tests.

"Most large users who can shift from using groundwater to surface water sources should consider doing so," Branch said.

To help address groundwater issues in the state, the LSU AgCenter field agents and water specialists conduct water conservation programs and help cities, business and industry, and the public develop new water supply strategies.

LSU AgCenter county agent Robin Bridges explained how officials in Webster Parish developed a water alliance to help the 32 water districts in that area develop plans to improve and better use water resources.

Now they are looking for ways to take advantage of available surface water and reduce demands on the Sparta Aquifer.

Educating the public to conserve water in the home and landscape is another outreach effort of the field agents in the LSU AgCenter, said Mimi Stoker, who also has developed a strategy to help families test their private wells for contamination.

To further study how other people are stretching their water resources, several faculty members from the LSU AgCenter visited a number of communities in Arkansas.

LSU AgCenter watershed agent Margaret Frey reported that some rice farmers have cut irrigation water pumping cost by 50 percent or more by using surface water in place of groundwater from their existing wells. Many have constructed water collection and storage reservoirs on their farms.

Frey also reported that the city of El Dorado, Ark., and Union County, Ark., have worked with a merchant power plant and other industries to use Ouachita River water instead of groundwater.

"Using surface water can be good for water quality and the economy, and it allows aquifers to recharge," said Branch.

Louisiana is blessed with an abundance of surface water resources in its rivers, lakes and streams. These surface water resources can greatly reduce our dependence on groundwater, said Branch.

In addition to those comments, Branch discussed the groundwater management legislation passed by the Louisiana Legislature and its encouragement for the development of surface water resources.

But Branch pointed out that this latest legislation does not include management of surface water, which is very complicated. There are 19 levee districts, 43 soil and water conservation districts and several legislatively approved surface water districts and parish-approved drainage boards already in the state.

For more information on a variety of issues related to agriculture and natural resources, home lawns and gardening, food, nutrition, family life and much more, go to www.lsuagcenter.com.

John Chaney writes for the LSU AgCenter. (318–473–6605 or jchaney@agcenter.lsu.edu).