Private proposal to sell billions of gallons of Iowa water may dry up

The Raccoon River, shown here in West Des Moines, is the subject of a lawsuit now in the Iowa Supreme Court. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued a notice that it intends to deny a permit application to withdraw water from Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer by a company that planned to ship 2 billion gallons a year to drought-stricken western states.

But the decision isn’t final and one eastern Iowa lawmaker says she wants the department to review Iowa’s laws in anticipation of future requests.

State Sen. Liz Mathis is a Democrat from Hiawatha. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

“I have encouraged the director, Kayla Lyon, to take a look in the future at our water rights, (to see) if our code is strong enough,” Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said.

The application by Pattison Sand Co. to remove “such a large volume of water permanently from the basin does not meet statutory and regulatory permitting requirements,” according to a “notice of intent to deny” issued by the DNR.

“More specifically, this scheme 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.’”

The DNR has determined the proposal “will have a negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources,” the notice states.

State geologist, Keith Schilling, who first heard about the proposal when contacted by an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter last week, had cautioned that the request needed additional study and that it could have an effect on the rest of the state.

Mathis said she believes Iowa’s law is adequate to deal with this decision but notes the state likely will receive future requests. Surface water is plentiful here but that may not be the case with the aquifers, she said. “I think there needs to be more of a plan on what that really looks like on into the future.”

And if Iowa would want to help out neighboring states in need, she said, “what would our agreement look like? … What’s in code right now is regulating the use of our natural resources so they’re not used for profit.”

Pattison, a sand-mining company in Clayton, Iowa, can submit comments by Feb. 14. The Department will review those before issuing a final decision on the permit.