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Sparta within sustainable levels

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Conservation efforts and alternative water-use projects help erase 16 mgd deficit in north Louisiana
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The bottom right graphic represents the dramatic rise of water levels in Claiborne Parish since 2005. This is due in large part to the Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project in Union County, Arkansas. This project converted industrial water usage from the Sparta to the Ouachita River saving millions of gallons of water daily from groundwater supplies. The $65 million project was funded mostly by industry and advocates (90 percent), federal (8 percent) and state (2 percent) funds.

The Sparta Aquifer, our primary water supply, is within sustainable levels in Louisiana.

U.S. Geological Survey figures show the amount of water being pumped out of the giant underground formation is now roughly the same as the amount going back into it through natural recharge.

“This is the first time we’re not using more than comes in,” Ben McGee, groundwater specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center in Ruston, said.
In a recently released report, USGS data shows as of 2014, approximately 54.9 million gallons of water were being pumped out of the Sparta daily in north Louisiana. That compares to 71.3 million gallons in 1995.

“The sustainable level is anywhere from 52 to 56 million gallons a day (mgd)” McGee said.
The Sparta is the major groundwater source for all or part of 16 North Louisiana parishes, including Lincoln Parish. About 200,000 Louisianans rely on the Sparta aquifer for drinking water.

Recently released USGS data shows the Sparta first reached sustainable levels in 2013 when 55.4 million gallons of a water day were pumped out of the aquifer.

McGee attributed the turnaround to successful conservation efforts on the part of organizations, industry and individuals, a population decrease and the loss of industry in part of the region.

The most dramatic changes came in Morehouse and Ouachita parishes, McGee said. In Morehouse, the International Paper mill quit using the Sparta in 1981. By 1990, the water level in the Sparta rose about 35 feet.

The mill closed in 2008 for economic reasons.

In Ouachita Parish, the city of West Monroe launched the Sparta Reuse Project that allowed commercial packaging company Graphic Packaging to use recycled wastewater in its production process instead of drawing from the Sparta.

Before the project went online in April 2012, Graphic Packaging was pulling 10 million gallons of water a day out of the aquifer. West Monroe is currently supplying 4 to 5 million gallons per day of treated grey water to the plant. To date, West Monroe has supplied more than 1.3 billion gallons of treated water to the mill.

Overall, USGS figures show in 2000, public supply — that’s primarily municipal water usage — was at about 38 million gallons per day in the Louisiana Sparta, while industrial supply was about 27 million gallons per day.

By 2014, public supply dropped to 32.4 million gallons per day and industrial use, to 18.5 million gallons daily.

The heaviest use of the Sparta was in 1995. Slightly more than 71 million gallons of water were being withdrawn from the aquifer every day. 1995 was also when the portion of the aquifer that reaches into South Arkansas was also being heavily pumped.

But four years later, in 1999, Arkansas began conservation measures that eventually saw water levels recover in Union County, just north of the Louisiana line.

The Ouachita River Alternative Water Supply Project converted industrial water usage from the Sparta to the Ouachita River saving millions of gallons of water daily from groundwater supplies.

Industry and advocates funded 90 percent of the $65 million project. Federal sources paid 8 percent of the cost, and state money, 2 percent.

The resulting recovery had spinoff for North Louisiana, McGee said.

A dramatic rise in the water levels in Claiborne Parish is at least partially responsible because of Union County’s efforts, officials said.

Also in 1999, local stakeholders petitioned the Louisiana Legislature to establish the Sparta Groundwater Commission to study the Louisiana portion of the aquifer and recommend best management practices.

Since then “local stakeholders have been working diligently to resolve a potentially catastrophic dilemma with our water supply,” Rick Hohlt, of Ruston, past commissioner with the Sparta Groundwater Conservation District, said.

“We set two distinct goals to save our Sparta. The most recent information released by the USGS has indicated that we have reached our first goal of sustainability.

“The successful reduction of 14 to 16 million gallons per day was achieved through conservation programs, public education and alternative surface water projects in north Louisiana and south Arkansas to relieve the stress on our water supply,” he said.

“Our second goal is to reduce consumption by another four to five million gallons per day to allow the Sparta to begin it’s recharge. While we celebrate the success of sustainability we must maintain our focus with further conservation efforts and support alternative water supply solutions to preserve our Sparta for future generations.”

With these goals in mind the Sparta Groundwater Commission formed a 501c3, the Sparta Foundation, to raise funds and set up education programs throughout north Louisiana. Sparta WaterFest activities started in 2010, targeting fifth graders in many parishes in north Louisiana.
To date, more than 11,000 students have gone through the daylong program learning of the plight of the aquifer. Water conservation has been a primary topic for these students.

Lindsay Gouedy, Sparta Commission educator, expressed the viability of conservation efforts.
“The Sparta Foundation’s educational efforts in north Louisiana cannot be under expressed given the current sustainability data presented by USGS,” Gouedy said.  

“The unique opportunity the WaterFest program has presented is to educate thousands of water users with ways that they can make a direct impact on water conservation in their home environments and in their daily lives.

“While there are many different successful solutions that have contributed to the overall usage declines, education is one that will have a lifetime impact on our society,” Gouedy said.
“We’ve stopped the bleeding,” McGee said, likening the aquifer to a critically ill patient.
But, the Sparta still has considerable recovering to do, he said.

Consequently, conservation has to continue, as do projects that are aimed at further curtailing Sparta use, McGee said.

And while he’s pleased that the Sparta is now within sustainable levels, McGee remains cautious about our water supply.

“We haven’t generated any free board here,” he said.

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