DNR denies sand mine’s latest application to export Iowa water

Parched land. (Photo by Getty Images)

State environmental officials have again denied Pattison Sand Co.’s application to export Iowa water to dry western states.

The denial, the third in a series, came after Des Moines lawyer James Pray noted the company wanted to hire a transportation firm to haul the water to customers by rail in part to rehire workers idled as the oil industry softened during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources earlier this month ruled the company had not proven its case for variances that would allow the export. DNR staffers said a lack of critical information from the company means DNR “cannot determine if the use of the water complies with the principles of beneficial use.”

The Clayton-based sand mine had been one of northeast Iowa’s largest employers with 300 workers before trouble hit, Pray told state officials in more than 300 pages of submitted documents. 

But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources ruled that it doesn’t have the authority to overturn what staffers see as a ban on the plan based on a requirement that Pattison show “beneficial use” under state law. DNR’s water program employees found that Pattison’s third application to export the water didn’t include enough information about how and where the water would be used. 

Iowa has never approved such an export plan. Several border rural water systems pipe water across state lines, but no one has won approval to ship water to other states by rail or truck, DNR officials have noted. 

Pattison has until June 1 to comment on department’s statement that it intends to formally reject Pattison’s request for variances and approval of the export.

Mark Moeller, water supply engineering supervisor, wrote in a May 21 letter to the company that “the department has other potential concerns regarding the scenario posed in the application” beyond those cited in the denial. 

“However, the department must have enough information to complete its beneficial use investigation before it can determine if those concerns are even valid,” Moeller wrote. 

In earlier communications, Pray had urged the state to “put falsehoods and misunderstandings aside and look at the actual facts,” including DNR’s earlier decision to approve similar wells at the site. 

Pattison applied to drill a new well, but indicated the exports would come from its existing limit of 1 billion gallons a year. The mine sits along the Mississippi River. The water would be withdrawn from the Jordan Aquifer, which is subject to added restrictions because it is used for drinking water across the state and can take hundreds or thousands of years to refill in places.

Pattison had hoped to run pilot program in June, months after its initial target. The proposal has drawn criticism from state lawmakers and the state geologist.