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Supreme Court sides with Tennessee in water rights standoff with Mississippi

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  • Mississippi accused Memphis of stealing its water
  • Court held underground water sources topic to ‘equitable apportionment’

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected claims by the state of Mississippi that Memphis, Tennessee has illegally “siphoned” its groundwater for many years by pumping it from wells situated outdoors the Mississippi border.

In a unanimous resolution, the excessive court docket shot down Mississippi’s argument that Memphis is stealing its water, holding that water each states draw from the Middle Claiborne Aquifer is topic to a doctrine generally known as equitable apportionment that has beforehand been utilized to the sharing of floor waters.

The ruling ends Mississippi’s bid to acquire $615 million in damages.

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Mississippi moved to sue Tennessee and Memphis in 2014. It maintained that Memphis had been pumping water topic to Mississippi’s sovereign possession from the Middle Claiborne Aquifer, which spans eight states together with Mississippi and Tennessee.

Although Memphis’ wells don’t cross the border between the states, Mississippi argued that the utility’s pumping triggered water situated beneath its territory to be pulled into Tennessee. Mississippi mentioned it had misplaced, in consequence, greater than 400 billion gallons of groundwater between 1965 and 2016.

In Monday’s ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that whereas a few of the aquifer falls beneath Mississippi’s jurisdiction, the water it incorporates just isn’t owned solely by the state, because it contends. Rather, the “flowing interstate waters” are topic to the equitable apportionment doctrine, which applies to the allocation of shared water sources between two or extra states, the decide wrote.

Roberts mentioned the case marked the primary time the Supreme Court has held that an interstate aquifer is topic to the doctrine. It had beforehand been utilized to instances involving floor water like rivers and streams.

Susannah Williams, a spokesperson with the Office of the Mississippi Attorney General, mentioned that her workplace “respect(s) the decision of the Court.”

David Frederick, a lawyer representing Tennessee, mentioned that the court docket had “upheld the important principle that States share interstate water resources, even if they are underground.”

The Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division pumps about 120 million gallons of groundwater from the Middle Claiborne Aquifer every day, utilizing greater than 160 wells situated in and round Memphis.

Simulations carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey have discovered that water ranges in giant swathes of the Middle Claiborne Aquifer may decline considerably by 2038, largely resulting from water being pumped at unsustainable charges.

The case is Mississippi v. Tennessee, City of Memphis, Tennessee, and Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 22O143.

For Mississippi: John Coghlan with the Office of the Attorney General of Mississippi; and Michael Ellingburg of the Ellingburg Law Firm

For Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division: Cheryl Patterson with the Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division

For Tennessee: David Frederick of Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick; and Sohnia Hong with the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General

For Tennessee, City of Memphis, and Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division: David Bearman of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz

Read extra:

In interstate water battle, SCOTUS tosses Florida claims of Georgia overconsumption

Water battle at SCOTUS may very well be harbinger of recent kind of local weather case

SCOTUS sides with New Mexico in water battle with Texas

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Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo
Sebastien Malo

Sebastien Malo reviews on environmental, local weather and vitality litigation. Reach him at sebastien.malo@thomsonreuters.com

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