There's a lot of water in Minnesota. With extensive resources of both groundwater and surface water, this is becoming a draw for water-intensive industries. The current proposal that's in the news is a water bottling plant that is proposing to use municipal water from the City of Elko New Market (locals call it ENM). The company proposing the plant is California-based Niagara Bottling.
This plant would be located in a newly-approved industrial park being built along Interstate 35 in Scott County, on the south edge of the Twin Cities Metro area. The City of ENM draws it's water from wells finished in the Jordan Aquifer, a major water supply aquifer for many other cities in the area. Springs from this aquifer form the headwaters of the near-by Vermillion River, a tributary to the Mississippi.
Residents have raised concerns about the project, citing noise, traffic and well interference. They are fighting the project through social media, demonstrations and advocacy in various ways. This blog post will focus on the issues of water use increase and water export, not the other local issues of concern. The City of ENM held a public meeting on the project - there were so many testifiers at the meeting that it was held over from December 15 to December 20. This story on KARE11 provides a good update on this process. Here's the link to view the recorded City Council meetings that include these hearings.
Water appropriations in Minnesota are regulated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,this page on the DNR website provides statutory reference and information on how it works. In this case, expansion of the amount allowed to be withdrawn from the Jordan by the City of ENM requires modification of the city's appropriation permit. DNR staff has confirmed that DNR has received a permit amendment request from the City, and advised the City that they must first update their Water Supply Plan if they want to increase water usage related to a bottling plant. This plan will identify what measures will be implemented in case of a water crisis in order to maintain aquifer levels, and reduce potential well interference and water use conflicts.
Once the Water Supply Plan is updated, DNR and the Metropolitan Council (a coordinative body of government responsible for planning in the Twin Cities) will evaluate the plan for sustainability and environmental impacts. If the proposed project does not meet state sustainability standards, DNR will not authorize the increase in water appropriation. Conversely, if the proposal meets the standards, the expansion of the city's appropriation permit will be allowed. The author of this post has requested more information on what standards DNR will specifically apply, but no answer was received as of noon on December 19.
The concerned citizens in ENM also have filed a request for specific environmental review of the project. They filed a petition with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board with 400 signatures requesting that an Environmental Review Worksheet for the project. The EQB approved the petition and assigned the EAW preparation to DNR; this will move forward in a separate process. This type of project has been seen elsewhere, where water-intensive industries plan to use municipal water supplies to supply water for their projects.
Niagara will be opening a new plant in Baltimore County, Maryland in the spring of 2023. The city's 'robust water supply' was listed as a reason this location was chosen - read more here in an April 2022 press release from the Governor of Maryland. Niagara had also proposed a similar plant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which fell through earlier this year amid local opposition. Here's a link to a Wisconsin Public Radio story on the project. There, Niagara pulled the proposal before the Eau Claire City Council could vote, but WQOQ News 18 reports the plans could be resubmitted.
The interstate transfer of water, and inter-basin transfer of water, is an area that needs more policy work. One example is a project where a Rural Water system in northwestern Iowa draws water that's 'sold' to users in the surrounding four-state area. This article in the Iowa Capitol Dispatch shows the impacts that water withdrawals have had on the Ocheyedan River, which has now run dry four out of the last seven years. The water is being pumped from shallow aquifers by the Osceola County Rural Water System, which sells water to the Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water system used largely by southwestern Minnesotans. (This is not the only source of water used by Lincoln-Pipestone.) According to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch article, the Osceola County Rural Water System has a deadline of March 31, 2023, to submit a plan to potentially reduce its pumping rates when river levels are low. If it doesn’t, “the DNR may unilaterally proceed with other actions to protect the use of the water supply,” according to the letter the department sent to the utility in November.
We will continue to report on progress of this project on this blog. Here's a link to a recent on-line news report about the controversy. This news story on the local Twin Cities Fox affiliate provides a video:
|LWV Upper Mississippi River Region||