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Supreme Court says Tennessee isn't taking water that belongs to Mississippi

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Seated, from left to right, are Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Standing, from left to right, are Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. Pool Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court issued its first decision of the new term on Monday, ruling that Tennessee has not been illegally taking water underground that belongs to Mississippi.

The longtime dispute was argued before the high court in October, in which Mississippi sought more than $600 million in damages.

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The state argued that the Memphis area has been unlawfully taking billions of gallons of water from the Middle Claiborne Aquifer, which runs beneath both states and several others.

In issuing its decision, the Supreme Court applied the same logic that it's used to settle similar disputes over water carried by rivers into multiple states.

The high court vote 9-0 in favor of Tennessee on the issue, and said Mississippi does not have sovereign ownership of interstate waters.

"Mississippi's ownership approach would allow an upstream state to completely cut off flow to a downstream one, a result contrary to our equitable apportionment jurisprudence," the court said in its decision.

The justices ruled that the waters in question will be governed by equitable apportionment, which allows the court to allocate how much water each state is permitted to use.

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The ruling is the first of its kind applied to an aquifer and the court's first ruling of the October 2021 term, which ends in June.

Though it ruled in favor of Tennessee, the court allowed Mississippi to file an amended complaint.

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