Iowa officials: Water export plan dead without new application

By: - April 7, 2020 12:56 pm

Parched land. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has thrown out a northeast Iowa company’s application to export water to drought-stricken states.

DNR water officials sent a letter Monday to Pattison Sand Co. of Clayton, stating the company filed the wrong type of application, hasn’t answered a long list of questions, and failed to pay a required $350 fee for a new permit application.

Pattison had attempted to amend its current permit, which was for water withdrawals related to sand mining. DNR noted it would require a new permit application for water exports, something that has never been requested in Iowa except for routine operations of a couple of small rural water systems close to state borders.

Company officials did not respond Tuesday morning to an email seeking comment. 

Pattison officials had told the state they want to sign a deal with Water Train. That company, based in White City, Oregon, would load the water onto tanker cars so it could be shipped via rail to Western states that are short on water.

In January, when Pattison first proposed exporting as much as 2.2 billion gallons a year, DNR officials ruled that the plan appeared to be a violation of state rules that are designed to conserve water and use it for a “beneficial purpose.” Pattison officials had countered that the beneficial purpose would be addressing the water shortage in the West and the economic damage it does.

Mark Moeller, DNR’s water supply engineering supervisor, noted in a letter to Pattison on Monday that the “need for proper procedure and concise documentation is paramount” for DNR to give the application a fair review. Because Pattison submitted an amendment to a permit application for a different purpose, DNR will stop the review.

The state will renew the debate if Pattison submits a new application for approval of the export proposal “detailing  all the proposed new uses for water and the associated existing sources of water that will be used for each use,” Moeller wrote.

The state has special limits on withdrawals from the Jordan Aquifer, from which Pattison would draw the water, because it recharges slowly and is used as a drinking-water source across the state.

Moeller noted that the company would have to list detailed information on the location of wells, the withdrawal rates, the use of the water and other details. Pattison would also have to submit the $350 application fee, which it didn’t previously. 

Pattison’s most recent proposal was to begin by exporting 2.8 million gallons a month to states that could include New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. That proposal would have been about 34 million gallons a year.

The idea drew questions from state lawmakers, the state geologist and others who doubted Iowa could afford to export water given its history of droughts and the Jordan’s glacially slow rate of refilling.

The Jordan Aquifer, shown in yellow, is a key well water source across the state. A Clayton sand mining operation wants to send water from its Jordan wells to dry western states by rail tankers. Map courtesy of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources


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