DNR denies Pattison request to send 2 billion gallons of water out west annually

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) intends to deny a request from Pattison Sand Co. to withdraw approximately 2 billion gallons of water each year from two Jordan aquifer wells on its Clayton property and sell it to western states suffering from drought.

In a letter sent to Pattison on Feb. 4, the DNR said “removing such a large volume of water permanently from the basin does not meet statutory and regulatory permitting requirements. More specifically, this proposal does not meet the legal standard that Iowa’s public water ‘be put to beneficial use...in the interest of the people,’ which requires that public waters be conserved and protected in the name of ‘public health and welfare.’”

“Additionally,” stated the DNR, “the department has determined the application’s requested withdrawal of water will have a negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources.”

Pattison is known for mining silica sand, which is often used in hydraulic fracturing, a process that extracts oil and natural gas from the earth. In 2016, a crushing plant was built to produce limestone aggregate material for concrete, asphalt, secondary roads, erosion control, base stabilization and more.

The company’s latest plan proposed withdrawing up to 2,002,536,000 gallons—3,810 per minute—from two existing wells located in a rail cut in the Jordan formation.

In its water use permit application to the DNR, Pattison said the purpose “is to supply community water to areas out west that are experiencing water shortages. Supplemental drinking to local community suffering from 19 year drought. Sub-aquifer has been drawn to the point where it can no longer be recharged. Augmented water is an attempt to prevent economic collapse of a region.”

The application did not state where exactly the water would go, but the DNR noted it would be shipped by rail car to states west of the Rocky Mountains.

According to the DNR’s Director of Communications, Alex Murphy, the withdrawal would have been the largest amount ever sent out of Iowa. It’s also the first major out-of-state transfer proposed.

The Jordan aquifer, which cuts diagonally across the state, from northeast to southwest Iowa, currently supplies water to nearly half a million people. Demand is growing, and some municipalities and businesses face restrictions on how much water they can extract. 

Water from the aquifer is hundreds of thousands of years old and lies closer to the surface in northeast Iowa than in other parts of the state. As a result of that, and Pattison’s location next to the Mississippi River, state scientists acknowledged water would likely recharge more quickly, but the supply is not assured.

The DNR said Pattison has until Feb. 14 to submit further clarifying comments in support of its application.

There is no public comment period planned.

“The Iowa Administrative Code (IAC) requires public notice prior to the department’s issuance of a water allocation permit,” Murphy said. “The IAC does not require public notice when the department denies a water allocation permit application.”

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