Company abandons appeal to export Iowa groundwater

By: - November 23, 2021 4:53 pm

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

A northeast Iowa company that initially sought to export billions of gallons of groundwater to parched western states each year but scaled back the quantity after pushback has abandoned the request to state regulators altogether.

The Pattison Sand Co. proposal was repeatedly rejected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources — most recently in May 2020 because the Clayton County company didn’t demonstrate “beneficial use” of the water as required by state law — and an appeal hearing had been set for early next month.

But the appeal was dismissed at Pattison’s request, according to a motion it filed on Sept. 22. An administrative law judge dismissed the case the next day, records show.

Pattison, through its attorney, declined to provide a reason for the dismissal. It’s unclear whether the company might again seek permission to export water from its wells near the Mississippi River.

The first-of-its kind proposal to withdraw and export water from the Jordan Aquifer — which lies beneath nearly all of Iowa and parts of neighboring states — drew criticism from state lawmakers, the state geologist and conservation groups.

“We opposed it from the beginning because we felt that the Jordan Aquifer was at risk,” said Wallace Taylor, an attorney and the conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, which sought to intervene in the appeal. “The Jordan Aquifer has been losing more water than is put back into it for some time now, and to take millions of gallons as Pattison proposed to do would have been disastrous.”

The estimated effects on the aquifer were not well established; the DNR noted in a May 2020 letter to the company that there were concerns about the proposal that weren’t fully investigated because the company was unable to meet the “beneficial use” requirement.

Taylor applauded the appeal’s dismissal but wondered whether the issue might resurface.

“With these boondoggles these companies have, they never actually totally go away,” he said. “Companies are always looking for some other way they can do it. I would not turn my back on it yet.”

Pattison’s primary business is mining sand that is used in oil and gas fracking.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.