Aquifer project faces public scrutiny

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

The illustration shows the three county-area covered by the Michindoh Aquifer.

The illustration shows the three county-area covered by the Michindoh Aquifer.

A Pioneer, Ohio, company’s proposal to sell water from a local aquifer will undergo public scrutiny March 12 at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Fayette.

Artesian of Pioneer plans to dig a test well about a mile northwest of the village on County Road S after it met EPA criteria for the project. Owned by Pioneer Mayor Edward Kidston, the company was issued draft well site approval Feb. 6.

The company plans to dig an initial test well after attracting the interest of more than six northwest Ohio communities seeking a new water source.

However, it has faced opposition to the project, particularly by Williams County Alliance (WCA). The Bryan-based grassroots organization claims Artesian of Pioneer will tap into the sprawling Michindoh Aquifer for this and future wells and drain the sole water supply for Williams County.

The permit’s draft form allows for a public hearing concerning the well, which would be located within both the Michindoh and Brawley aquifers. But Kidston insists the well will tap the Brawley Aquifer, the same one providing water for Fayette.

The OEPA hearing is set for March 12 at 6 p.m. at Fayette Local Schools, 400 E. Gamble Road.

The 12-inch diameter, approximately 220 foot-deep well will initially receive a pump test for 72 hours. Data gathered will be compiled over several weeks, then sent a to the EPA a couple of months later in report form. Kidston said if the well receives positive results it would be among as many as 10 wells dug to draw up possibly 15 million gallons daily from the Brawley Aquifer.

While the City of Toledo and Lucas County have withdrawn interest as potential customers, Artesian of Pioneer’s project could still attract, among others, Henry and Fulton counties, Liberty Center, Whitehouse, Maumee, Sylvania, Perrysburg, and Northwest Water and Sewer which covers part of Wood County.

Kidston said the public brouhaha surrounding his company’s project is based on incorrect information. He said the WCA has been spreading falsehoods about the venture.

“They’re saying (the impending Fayette well) is in the Michindoh Aquifer,” Kidston said. He said the well site has been proven to be within the Brawley Aquifer “but that doesn’t keep anyone from lying. There’s been such an uproar with misinformation.”

The group’s argument, Kidston said, is that his company will instead tap into the Michindoh Aquifer and deplete its groundwater supply. “There’s no way (the project is) going to affect anybody else,” he said, mentioning Bryan and Stryker as two communities among those that use the aquifer.

The Michindoh aquifer extends across nine counties in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

Kidston said it’s his understanding that that meeting will be used, in part, to counteract incorrect information being fed to the public.

“Part of the intent is to give straight answers to the misinformation that’s being disseminated,” he said.

There may or may not be sufficient water in the test well, Kidston said. “That’s what this test is about. As we get more and more information, we will be able to determine exactly what’s there. (But) I’m confident that there’s plenty of renewable water.”

Sherry Fleming, president of the WCA, takes issue with Kidston’s claims.

“I don’t think it’s fair for him to accuse us of putting out false information,” she said. “We have tried to be very, extremely careful not to distort things.”

In 2007, the City of Bryan filed a full-source aquifer petition with EPA Region 5 in Chicago based on information showing the Michindoh Aquifer is the only economically feasible source of water for the city and other communities. The conclusions of the petition, which was never granted, were based on past studies from the U.S. Geological Service and similar agencies.

Fleming said what Kidston fails to understand is that the Brawley Aquifer falls within the Michindoh Glacial Aquifer system – also known as the Michondoh Aquifer – and interacts with the system. Lou Pendleton, who chaired the petition group for Bryan, and is the current vice president of the WCA, concurred that the Brawley Aquifer is a subset of the Michindoh system.

Fleming said at a meeting held in Bryan last fall between representatives of the U.S. Geological Service and county commissioners from the tri-state area whose jurisdictions fall within the Michindoh Aquifer, the government agency said a minimum of 10 years of study would be necessary to understand the dynamics of the entire aquifer system.

According to Fleming, there is a fear within area aquifer communities that Kidston’s intent to tap the Michindoh Aquifer will deplete the water faster. “He’s making very broad statements” about the water’s sustainability, which may not be accurate with the entire system, she said. “He has made some very misleading statements.”

She added “This is our sole source of water within the designated petition area. It would be a big financial burden if we had to find a different source of water. When do you turn off the valve and say it’s too much? It’s an unknown risk, and we have nothing to gain other than risk.”

The eastern communities looking for cheaper water sources “have other options they can pool,” including Lake Erie and the Maumee River, Fleming said. She said Kidston must also remember “there’s an ecosystem that is dependent upon the health of the aquifer system.”

EPA spokesperson Dina Pierce said the agency visited the well site in mid-December, and determined that all criteria for the project were met. She said the public hearing will be used “to explain the process and let people know what’s going on from our perspective.”

She said she doesn’t know whether attending EPA representatives will challenge information released by the Williams County Alliance.

Because the Village of Fayette is not involved in Kidston’s project, and won’t benefit from it, the village’s administrators and council have yet to talk about it.

“We haven’t discussed anything officially, no. We have formed zero opinion,” Village Administrator Genna Biddix said.

The project is outside the village’s jurisdiction, giving the village no legal rights, she said. “We’re not a part of the project. We’re an observer at this point, because it’s in our backyard. We have zero control over it. We’re kind of waiting to see what happens, just like everybody else.”

Kidston noted that dozens of aquifers, some connected, are located throughout northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan, and northeast Indiana. He said Artesian of Pioneer completes several projects like the Fayette-area test well every year.

“Everybody is acting like this is an exception to the rule. We do this every day. This is not a big project,” he said.

In this particular case, the fuss is being generated by people with an agenda, Kidston said.

“They’ve created a lie, and they’ve gotten people to believe it, and they’ve made money off it selling signs and T-shirts,” he said.

The well must receive the approval of Ohio EPA Director Laurie Stevenson following the public comment period which ends March 15 at 5 p.m. Without site approval, the well can’t be approved as a public water system. Written comments can be mailed to: Ohio EPA, Division of Drinking and Ground Waters, Attn: Craig Smith, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, Ohio 43216-1049.

The illustration shows the three county-area covered by the Michindoh Aquifer. illustration shows the three county-area covered by the Michindoh Aquifer.

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.