The U.S. Supreme Court released its docket for the first term of 2021-2022, and the groundwater-focused case Mississippi v. Tennessee kicked off oral arguments on October 4.
Mississippi claims the intense pumping of more than 140 million gallons a day by the city of Memphis, Tennessee, is drawing groundwater that belongs to Mississippi. Wells owned by Memphis have created “cones of depression” in the water table that suck water across state lines into Tennessee according to the filing which estimates 252 billion gallons have been “forcibly” taken since 1985.
At the center of the case is the question of how states “share” aquifers which cross state lines and how they are utilized by various municipalities. The ruling on the case could drastically change how interstate groundwater law is interpreted and how groundwater use is regulated.
Memphis claims that Mississippi failed to plead a cause of action in the case. Mississippi is also seeking over $600 million in damages.
The aquifer has been the source of numerous lawsuits over the past 15 years, although this is the first case to be heard by the Supreme Court. The case will also mark the return to in-person arguments at SCOTUS since the COVID-19 restrictions first began in March 2020.
NGWA will continue to track the case and any policy or legal implications that stem from the ruling.