Pattison renews request to export water

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Pattison Sand Co. has renewed its request to withdraw millions of gallons of water from its Clayton property and ship it to western states suffering from drought. 

A recent application to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposes extracting 33.6 million gallons of water annually—2.8 million per month—from Jordan aquifer wells and the nearby Mississippi River. 

The amount is considerably less than the approximately 2 billion gallons Pattison previously sought to export. The DNR denied that request on Feb. 4, stating that permanently removing that volume of water from the basin did not meet statutory and regulatory permitting requirements. 

“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,” the DNR added in the denial letter.

According to the DNR, the withdrawal would have been the largest amount ever sent out of Iowa.

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.

The company’s latest plan would ship water out west via rail car. The water would then be dumped into a man-made or natural reservoir, river or channel and drawn upon and processed as needed.

In its water use permit application to the DNR, Pattison said it was unsure of the exact location the water would be used, but the company it has contracted with is in discussions with entities in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and California.

“The ongoing drought, consumption and shortage in many western states is driving this desire for water supplies...It appears most of the water will be supplied to cities,” Pattison said. “The out of state benefit is that communities and entities needing water can continue to exist.”

The arrangement would also benefit Pattison. The company said it had a local economic impact of over $5 million in 2018, and that diversifying business opportunities will ensure long-term, stable employment.

“Exporting water from the immediate area will have a significant impact on jobs we provide in Iowa as well as investment,” Pattison stated. “These economic impacts benefit both our company, its employees, their families and the many support businesses that sell labor and services to our company.”

According to Pattison, the company is currently permitted to pump a combined 2.1 billion gallons of water each year from its wells and the Mississippi River. In 2018, 217 million gallons of water were pumped, but that amount dropped to just over 172 million last year. Citing a report, the company said utilizing more of the full capacity should not impact local wells or the Jordan aquifer basin.

The max pumping rate, Pattison added, would only occur when loading the rail cars.

“Gallons pumped for a group of cars awaiting shipment will be between 1.4 million and 3.08 million per shipment,” the application read.

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 has not provided a timeline for when it will make a decision on the latest request.

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