Supreme Court hears Mississippi-Tennessee water dispute

Supreme Court hears Mississippi-Tennessee water dispute
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments over a dispute in which Mississippi claims that Tennessee is invading its property rights by pumping water near the border from an aquifer that spans both states, drawing water that’s located under Mississippi into Tennessee. 

Mississippi is seeking more than $600 million in damages and has rejected the notion of equitably apportioning the water as a solution. 

The state's arguments were met with some skepticism from the justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts.

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He compared the idea of the water solely belonging to Mississippi when it's in that state to one state trying to claim sole ownership of a pack of horses that walk between two. 

“Let’s suppose they’re a valuable resource. If they were in Mississippi and crossed into Tennessee and Tennessee seized them at that point, would that be damaging Mississippi?” he asked. 

John Coglan, Mississippi’s deputy solicitor general, said that the difference between the chief justice’s example and the facts of the case were that with the horses, the state in question wasn't crossing borders. 

“In the example your honor is suggesting, Tennessee is acting entirely within Tennessee’s borders. It’s not acting extraterritorially, and I’d say that is what distinguishes the case here from your honor’s example and from all the court’s equitable apportionment cases,” he said, 

Meanwhile, attorney David Frederick, representing Tennessee, argued that Mississippi wasn’t suffering any harm. 

“The aquifer is fully saturated and in a state of equilibrium and Mississippi has increased its own pumping dramatically and can extract all the water it needs," Frederick said.