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Saltwater Intrusion: Planning for Sustainable Cooperative Policy in the Face of Climate Change and Overconsumption

Saltwater Intrusion: Planning for Sustainable Cooperative Policy in the Face of Climate Change and Overconsumption

Jessica Doughty

The United States’ population consumes over 305 billion gallons of water daily.[1] This amount of water would fill 461,944 Olympic swimming pools.[2]  At this rate of consumption, 40 out of 50 states will face water shortages within the next decade.[3]With the growth of the United States population, particularly growth focused in coastal cities, comes increased pressure on aquifers.[4]  In addition, climate change is degrading aquifers.[5] Increased pressure on aquifers coupled with the effects of climate change causes a number of issues for groundwater aquifers, one of them being saltwater intrusion.[6]

In healthy aquifers the seaward movement of freshwater mixes with saltwater to form an interface near the coast.[7]The seaward movement of freshwater prevents saltwater from entering coastal aquifers.[8]  When this natural balance is disrupted, through over consumption or sea-level rise, seawater can enter into an aquifer.[9]  The aquifer is then contaminated and can no longer be used for drinking.[10]  The extent to which saltwater intrudes on an aquifer depends on the rate of withdrawal, the rate of freshwater recharge, the distance between the recharge location, and the geological structure of the aquifer.[11]The United States recognized saltwater intrusion as an issue for the first time in 1854 on Long Island, New York.[12]As of 1999, at least 20 public and industrial wells, and over 1000 domestic wells, have be closed due to saltwater intrusion.[13]  Despite these negative effects of saltwater intrusion, there is currently limited federal, state, and local policy governing this issue.[14]

This note will look at Florida and Georgia, which have wide-ranging saltwater intrusion policies and regulations, and compare them to New York, which has less intensive policies.[15]This comparison will lead to recommendations for a comprehensive national policy, which does not currently exist. The goal of that policy is to aid states that have fewer or no regulations in place. Part I of this note will look at the science behind saltwater intrusion focusing on its causes and why it is essential for the country to concentrate on its prevention.  Part II of the note will look at Florida and Georgia saltwater intrusion laws, analyzing how the laws function.  In this section, the note will explore the polices’ success in preventing further saltwater intrusion both nationally and federally.  Then, this note will examine New York policies analyzing the laws in place and how they can be improved.  Part III of this note will look at federal law that could possible lay the foundation for a national policy, particularly the Coastal Zone Management Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The note will examine federal law in conjunction with the major water regimes to suggest a national preventive program against saltwater intrusion and exemplify resources available to the states. New York will be used as a case study to do so.  Ultimately, Part IV of this note will suggest a regime that states can implement which will lead to interstate and intrastate saltwater intrusion policies and prevention.

[1]John Duff, et al., Prospects and Pitfalls of Desalination Development: Insights from Three States, 22 Ocean & Coastal L.J. 130, 131 (2017).

[2]Jeremy Hoefs, Measurements for an Olympic Size Swimming Pool, Livestrong.Com (Sept. 11, 2017),

[3]John Duff, et al., supra note 1, at 131.

[4]Jerry M. Melilloet al., Highlights of Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third Nat’l Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Res. Program 1, 30 (2014).

[5]See Paul M. Barlow & Eric G. Reichard, Saltwater Intrusion in Coastal Regions of North America, 18 Hydrogeology J., 247, 249 (2010) (explaining the science behind lateral saltwater intrusion and extreme changes in weather that disrupt the freshwater-saltwater balance will lead to saltwater intrusion.)

[6]Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments and South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Assessing the Impact of Saltwater Intrusion in the Carolinas under Future Climatic and Sea Level Condition, NOAA, 7 (Dec. 2012),

[7]Saltwater Intrusion, U.S. Geological Surv., (last visited Oct. 14, 2018).




[11]Barlow & Reichard, supra note 5, at 249.



[14]Wendy B. Davis, Reasonable Use Has Become the Common Enemy: An Overview of the Standards Applied to Diffused Surface Water and the Resulting Depletion of Aquifers, 9 Alb. L. Envtl. OutlookJ. 1, 4 (2004).

[15]By comparing Florida’s, Georgia’s, and New York’s saltwater intrusion policies it becomes clear that New York has significantly less regulation.  Compare Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 391-3-2.10 (2018) (discussing Georgia’s saltwater intrusion policy), and Fla. Stat. Ann. § 373.026 (2018) (stating the framework for Florida’s polices regarding saltwater intrusion), with N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 19, § 600.6 (2018) (explaining the framework of New York’s policy).



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