The Suburbanite
  • Muskingum Watershed postpones water sales

  • The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District will postpone water sales from reservoirs until a study has been completed.

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  • Drilling companies seeking water for fracking oil and gas wells will have to wait to buy water from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.
    The district’s board announced Tuesday that it would postpone water sales from its reservoirs until an independent water availability study is finished. The board will use the study to create a new water sales policy.
    Because of concerns raised by environmental groups, the general public and MWCD staff, the agency will “slow down the process of managing water sales requests,” said John M. Hoopingarner, the district’s executive director.
    Earlier this year the MWCD board approved having the U.S. Geological Survey perform a water availability study for the Atwood, Clendening and Leesville reservoirs. The district hopes to have the information later this year.
    “We believe strongly that it is in the best interest of the public we serve and the conservancy district to not entertain any water supply requests until this study has been completed and the MWCD has had an opportunity to update its water supply policy for review, public discussion and consideration” by the board, Hoopingarner said. “We want to fully understand the concerns of interested groups and the public, and ensure that each step in the process is transparent and open for public review.”
    For more than a year, the water district has found itself caught in the debate over drilling into the Utica shale formation that lies under eastern Ohio.
    Two processes — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — are necessary to reach and recover oil and gas from the rock. Environmentalists have challenged shale drilling and especially the hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — process, which uses millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to break the rock and release the hydrocarbons.
    The MWCD board has deals to lease the mineral rights of district property allowing oil and gas companies to drill. The board also has a deal to sell water to Gulfport Energy.
    During the past year, protesters have voiced opposition to drilling and water sales at MWCD’s monthly meetings. In April, protesters contended the district was violating its water policy with the plan to sell water from Clendening Lake to Gulfport.
    On Saturday, dozens of residents concerned about water sales to drilling companies protested outside the annual Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Court meeting. Several also voiced opposition during the meeting.
    Saturday’s testimony factored into the board’s decision to postpone water sales, MWCD spokesman Darrin Lautenschleger said. “It was obvious that there are some shared concerns out there.”
    The U.S. Geological Survey already has started its water study, which is looking at surplus water availability. The survey will try to determine the amount of water in the lakes, taking into consideration periods of drought and heavy rain.
    Page 2 of 2 - It’s expected the study will be finished later this year. MWCD staff members will consider the study while developing a new water sale policy for the board to approve. The district’s current policy allows the board and the judges court to approve different water sales.
    Although the ban is in place, the MWCD will move forward with its agreement to supply Gulfport with up to 11 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake in Harrison County. A temporary pipeline is being built to draw water from the lake and move it to a nearby Gulfport drilling site. Gulfport is paying $9 per 1,000 gallons, compared to the 20 cents per 1,000 gallons the district charges most communities.
    Hoopingarner said the district has received about a dozen other inquiries for water sales from other reservoirs. None of those requests will be considered until studies and the policy review are completed.
    Right now, the district has three long-term agreements to provide water to Cadiz from Tappan Lake, Cambridge from Seneca Lake, and Carroll County from Atwood Lake.
    Hoopingarner said the MWCD must review and address water supply requests. “However, given the current and future conditions that exist related to the oil and gas industry in the Muskingum River Watershed, we are taking these very deliberate steps to ensure that we have complete and accurate information,” he said.

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