The list of states struggling to maintain their swiftly shrinking water resources is long, but few laymen would put Louisiana on it. With its bayous, its Gulf Coast and its place at the foot of one of the longest rivers in the world, the state practically floats on water. But after two of the driest years in a century and a stack of permit requests for the construction of new, aqua-guzzling power plants, Gov. Murphy J. "Mike" Foster agreed last year with those saying that the time has come to involve the state in managing water.
Stateline.org spoke with Foster at a conference in Baton Rouge last week.
STATELINE.ORG: What do you see as the essence of Louisiana's water problems?
Foster: Well, there's two problems. One is maintaining the aquifers where they can be used. We've got so much darned water down here that almost anywhere you go you're going to fall into water. And the aquifers are basically replaced with rain and we've had a very, very dry spell. But we have to be sure of that.
The second thing is that, again, because of the driest conditions in 100 years, we've got a lot of saltwater intrusion. We've had areas along our coast that have been freshwater for years and years. I'll give you some examples. NMFS - the National Marine Fisheries Service -- they have these huge canals cut in to our coastline in areas that were marshes that were semi-freshwater. More freshwater than salt - brackish. And now they're saying, well, we represent fisheries interests. When these levees break, we don't want you to replace them. The fish feel like going in and out. Well hell, they'll destroy a whole bunch of our coast. Those are the kind of issues -- saltwater intrusion, the aquifers. That's mainly it.
STATELINE.ORG People have talked about new power plants as a problem. You'd prefer not to see them that way?
Foster: First, you've got to understand, I think that was sort of used to politicize this. We're a natural place for merchant power plants. We've got water. All it does is run through the boilers and heats up. If you stop by the power plants, you'll find all the fish congregate where the water is discharged. They like that. That doesn't degrade water, to have it go through a power plant. But when they go and start the aquifer use, we've got to be sure that's not something that's going to do harm. It's a small, small percentage of total water. I'll just tell you, my problems are saltwater intrusion and the aquifers.
It's time we get into this. We've just had so much water, we haven't had to do it.
STATELINE.ORG Do you see partnership with other states as part of the solution?
Foster Sure. I've talked with George W. of Texas and he said basically their policy is they have no restrictions on farming and no restrictions on recreating. They regulate above that.
STATELINE.ORG Speaking of the new president, a pair of Louisiana state lawmakers were just in Washington and used the occasion to switch to the Republican party.
Foster I'm a Republican, so I'm very pleased with that. I like the president. I think he's going to surprise people. He's like I am. He's not much into this party stuff. It's going to wreck Washington and wreck any place you let it.
STATELINE.ORG Do you work well with the legislature?
Foster: Oh, yeah. Actually, our legislature's not organized along party lines. We have a Republican chairman; we have a Republican president of the Senate.
STATELINE.ORG Do you see more party switching in the future?
Foster I hope so, but who knows? That's a whole other subject.
STATELINE.ORG On to another pressing concern - teachers' salaries. More teachers are going on sick-outs.
Foster: Mistake. Mistake. I've met with some of their leadership today and told them that's not driving the process at all. I think they're going to hurt their cause.
STATELINE.ORG You've asked for pay raises. How much do you hope to get for the teachers?
Foster Well, we need, we need ... My goal is the Southern regional average. We think we can get two thirds of that way pretty quickly, the other third within a year if the legislature will work with us.