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Published Sep 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm (Updated Sep 21, 2012)

Baton Rouge Business Report

Stephanie Riegel

A series of television ads hit local airwaves today calling on state regulators to do a better job protecting Baton Rouge’s drinking water supply. The 30- and 60-second commercials are part of a $100,000 media buy sponsored by Citizens for Clean Water and Land, a PAC that was incorporated last summer by a group of attorneys and landowners who “want to make sure polluters are held responsible for their actions and regulators are held responsible for enforcing regulations,” says attorney John Carmouche, one of the PAC’s founders.The ads, which will run for three weeks on local network and cable stations, are narrated by well-known civil engineers A. Hays Town II and Jimmy Jenkins, who have founded a separate organization, Save BR Water, to raise public awareness about saltwater intrusion into the municipal drinking water supply.

Political consultant Roy Fletcher, who produced the commercials, says Town’s group approached Carmouche’s group about partnering on the campaign and it made sense.
“Let’s face it,” Fletcher says. “Fresh water is becoming a political issue, not just in this state but in every state.”

It’s a hot-button issue because industry is being blamed for the growing problems in many communities. Town’s research shows Baton Rouge’s drinking water, which comes from an underground aquifer and has been rated as among the best in the nation, is being contaminated by saltwater intrusion resulting—at least in part—from overuse by chemical plants. The plants prefer using aquifer water to Mississippi River water because it costs less than harnessing and treating water from the river.

“The more they lower the water table, the more saltwater that creeps in,” Town says.

In the TV ads, Town and Jenkins call on Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh, an assistant secretary in the Department of Natural Resources, to stop industry from using aquifer water. They also urge citizens to contact Welsh’s office, even publishing his phone number on the screen.
“The Commissioner of Conservation can stop the problem, but he doesn’t appear interested in doing that,” Town tells Daily Report.

“The Office of Conservation will continue to work in cooperation with the Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission to protect the sustainability of the Southern Hills Aquifer that serves the Baton Rouge area,” says DNR Commissioner of Conservation Jim Welsh in response to the ads. “We look forward to the engagement of the Commission and the public as we move forward with incorporating the U.S. Geological Survey’s aquifer modeling report, anticipated to come out later this fall, and information to be provided to the Office of Conservation by major users of the aquifer into our assessment of the state of the aquifer and plans for action over the next several years.”

To learn more about saltwater intrusion and potential effects on the municipal drinking water supply, visit the Save BR Water website here.