Groundwater Conflict Between Mississippi and Tennessee to be Considered by U.S. Supreme Court in 2016-17 Term

During the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016-17 term, a special master for the Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the groundwater-related case of Mississippi v. Tennessee.  In the case, Mississippi claims that it has sovereign authority over groundwater within its surface borders, and that the city Memphis, Tennessee, is using groundwater that belongs to Mississippi, and that Mississippi should therefore be compensated.  The groundwater in question comes from the Sparta-Memphis Sand Aquifer underlying both states.

This is reportedly the first time the Supreme Court has considered a shared-aquifer conflict between two states, although the Court has heard cases regarding connections between groundwater and surface water.

According to the Supreme Court’s Blog site, the issues in the case are the following: “Whether the Court will grant Mississippi leave to file an original action to seek relief from respondents’ use of a pumping operation to take approximately 252 billion gallons of high-quality groundwater; (2) whether Mississippi has sole sovereign authority over and control of groundwater naturally stored within its borders, including in sandstone within Mississippi’s borders; and (3) whether Mississippi is entitled to damages, injunctive, and other equitable relief for the Mississippi intrastate groundwater intentionally and forcibly taken by respondents.”

The case could have implications for other states that share aquifers, including Virginia and North Carolina, which share the Potomac Aquifer, a groundwater source used significantly more in southeastern Virginia than in northeastern North Carolina.

The Supreme Court docket number is 220143.

Mississippi’s Claim That Tennessee Is Stealing Groundwater Is A Supreme Court First, Circle of Blue (produced in Traverse City, Mich.), 10/3/16.

Supreme Court of the United States Blog, “Mississippi v. Tennessee,” online at

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