Dec. 9, 2021 by Christine Klein

Memphis Commercial Appeal Op-Ed: Supreme Court Turns to Science to Resolve Groundwater Dispute Between Mississippi and Tennessee

In an era when most Supreme Court opinions are sharply divided, recently the high court unanimously rejected Mississippi’s claim against Tennessee in a long-running dispute over the groundwater that lies beneath both states in a common aquifer.

The impacts of this case will extend far beyond Mississippi and Tennessee, as states compete with one another over limited water supplies.

When neighboring states fight over shared rivers, the law has been clear for more than a century: They can settle their differences either by negotiated agreements known as “interstate compacts” or they can ask the Supreme Court to divide up the waters through what is known as an “equitable apportionment.”

But until late November, it was not as clear how states should resolve brawls over water when it is found underground in geologic formations known as aquifers.

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March 11, 2020 by Sandra Zellmer, Christine Klein

Originally published by NYU Press. Reprinted with permission.

The flood season is upon us once again. Beginning in February, parts of Mississippi and Tennessee were deluged by floods described as "historic," "unprecedented," even "Shakespearean." At the same time, Midwestern farmers are still reeling from the torrential rains of 2019 that destroyed billions of dollars' worth of crops and equipment, while wondering whether their water-ravaged farmland can ever be put back into production. All this while the Houston area continues to recover from three so-called "500-year floods" in as many years, back-to-back in 2015, 2016, and, most notably, Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

As one tragedy follows another, they barely qualify as national news anymore. Instead, record-breaking floods and destruction are becoming commonplace. Why do the sequels barely warrant top billing? How have our national policies failed us, and why do they continue to fail us …

Sept. 11, 2018 by Christine Klein

This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Eileen and Jeff Swanson faced the unthinkable. They had just paid off the last of the mortgage on their $225,000 home in the Canyon Gate neighborhood of Houston, where they lived with two sons, one of whom is severely developmentally disabled. During the storm, a foot of water inundated their home, and in its wake, they faced $60,000 in costs to repair the damage. Like many Houston residents, the Swansons had no flood insurance. 

The lesson one might be tempted to draw is the one Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long promoted in a recent congressional hearing: that reform of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) should focus on ensuring that those …

April 7, 2016 by Christine Klein

Originally published on OUPblog by CPR Member Scholars Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer.

The recent tragedy involving toxic, lead-laced tap water in Flint, Michigan highlights the growing gulf between rich and poor, and majority and minority communities. In an ill-fated measure to save costs for the struggling city of Flint, officials stopped using Detroit's water supply system and switched to the Flint River. Although residents complained about the water's foul taste, odor, and color, officials assured them that the water was safe to drink. Later, it became clear that the polluted, corrosive river water leached lead from the city's water pipes, so that the water coming out of the residents' taps contained high levels of lead – a powerful neurotoxin for which there is no safe level of exposure. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which causes severe learning disabilities and irreversible …

April 21, 2014 by Christine Klein

Landowners flooded by the Missouri River in 2011 have sued the Corps of Engineers for a Fifth Amendment “taking” under the U.S. Constitution.  Their attorneys hope to rake in over $250 million in claims for their clients and at least $1 million in expenses and fees for themselves.  They’re likely to be disappointed.

Lawsuits seeking recovery of flood damages from the federal government almost always fail.  First, the United States is immune from suit for negligent construction or handling of flood control structures under the sovereign immunity shield of the 1928 Flood Control Act, as plaintiffs whose lives were destroyed when levees failed during Hurricane Katrina quickly discovered.  My co-author Christine Klein and I have called for a repeal of this provision in our article and book on Unnatural Disasters, but it hasn’t happened.

In hopes of avoiding the immunity problem, the Missouri River …

June 19, 2013 by Christine Klein

It’s been more than 30 years since the U.S. Supreme Court declared that water is an article of commerce and that Nebraska’s attempts to prevent the export of “its” groundwater to neighboring Colorado violated the dormant Commerce Clause.1 The high Court did not return directly to the issue until last week’s ruling in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann.2 3 This time, a unanimous Court ruled againt the would-be exporter--Texas--and its effort to diver a portion of the Kiamichi River from a point within neighboring Oklahoma..

The Court struck a blow to one of Texas’ largest water districts, which supplies the exploding populations of the state’s north central region including Fort Worth, Arlington, and Mansfield.4 The ruling thwarted Tarrant’s attempt to obtain a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to divert 310,000 acre-feet from the relatively …

Oct. 21, 2009 by Christine Klein

As the recession grinds on, financial news continues to grab front-page headlines. The national deficit is a central flashpoint for controversy, triggering debate on the appropriate balance between spending today and increasing our children’s growing mountain of debt. In the midst of this battle, it is easy to overlook another looming problem: the growth of the environmental deficit. Overall, we are spending down the planet’s “natural capital” at unsustainable rates. As the nation’s most thoughtful minds address our economic woes, their wisdom provides three important lessons for environmental sustainability. The moment is particularly ripe for such analysis as the international community struggles with the overwhelming issue of climate change, certainly a key to achieving any sort of sustainable environmental future.

Re-regulation to promote responsibility: Even as taxpayers bailed out financial institutions deemed too big to fail, executives received huge bonuses. Growing outrage has prompted …

Sept. 24, 2009 by Christine Klein

The interstate water wars have gone underground. For more than a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has been the arbiter of last resort to settle fights between states over the right to use surface streams that cross state lines. But now, the high Court may be asked to settle a long-standing feud between Mississippi and Tennessee over a vast underground formation—the Memphis Sand aquifer, which underlies about 10,000 square miles of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

The stakes are high, and the rhetoric inflammatory. Mississippi sued the City of Memphis, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and claiming that Memphis is stealing Mississippi’s “share” of the aquifer. The problem is that no one has ever determined the two states’ respective “shares” of the aquifer, and that Tennessee (and not merely Memphis) must be part of any lawsuit that makes such a …

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More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Dec. 9, 2021

Memphis Commercial Appeal Op-Ed: Supreme Court Turns to Science to Resolve Groundwater Dispute Between Mississippi and Tennessee

March 11, 2020

Still Flooding After All These Years

Sept. 11, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Flood Insurance Program: Back to the Future

April 7, 2016

Unnatural Disasters and Environmental Injustice

April 21, 2014

Missouri River Floodplain Owners Seeking a “Double-Take” from the Taxpayers

June 19, 2013

The Lesson of Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann: Water Conservation, not Water Commerce

Oct. 21, 2009

Reversing the Environmental Deficit