The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved a well site permit in late January for a potential new water utility.

Artesian of Pioneer — a Pioneer, Ohio based business — had indicated interest in serving suburbs of Toledo, Ohio, with water pumped from the Michindoh Aquifer. The aquifer spans 2 million acres beneath Ohio, Michigan and parts of Indiana that include Steuben and DeKalb counties.

A public hearing March 12, 2019, hosted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency filled a school gym in Fayette, Ohio with people from across the tri-state area who overwhelmingly seemed to be against Artesian’s plans. The EPA did not rule on Artesian’s request for nearly a year, issuing a well site approval letter on Jan. 27 to Artesian of Pioneer president and CEO Ed Kidston, who was re-elected as the mayor of Pioneer, Ohio in November.

The communities that would have been served by the new water utility have accepted 40-year uniform water supply contracts with the City of Toledo, remaining with their existing service. In addition to continuing the service, a new regional water commission was formed for representation of consumers outside the Toledo city limits.

In the Michindoh region, the Ohio-Michigan-Indiana Regional Council of Governments has been formed to discuss studying the volume of the aquifer.

Well site approved

Artesian may now put a production well on a lot at 24668 C.R. S, Fayette, Ohio. The site “complies with the requirements of Ohio EPA in accordance with Ohio Administrative Code,” says the Jan. 27 letter to Kidston from the EPA.

Production well siting is a first step to starting a water utility. The Ohio EPA would have to approve the company’s plans, which includes an evaluation of drinking water alternatives. At this time, there is no indication that Artesian has a customer base for a new water utility.

Along with detailed information on the regulations for creating a water utility, Kidston was sent an overview from the March meeting in Fayette.

“Ohio EPA received several hundred comments regarding this application. … Most comments were not focused on the well siting application,” says the document. “Many commenters referenced the ‘Michindoh Aquifer,’ although this terminology is not formally recognized by the federal or state geological surveys. The name ‘Michindoh’ originated as part of the city of Bryan’s sole source aquifer application.” The sole source designation attempt was abandoned in 2013 following a nine-year effort with significant opposition from the Farm Bureau.

The EPA letter confirms only a “glacial surface aquifer in the northwest portion of Ohio” that is “part of a regional complex aquifer system.” It says additional study is necessary to understand “the connectivity of surficial aquifers” in northwestern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and northeastern Indiana.

“Ohio EPA supports conducting a study to better understand the hydrogeological characteristics of the region and is evaluating options for such a study,” says the document in a 14-page recap of questions and answers from the public meeting in Fayette last March.

The Ohio-Michigan-Indiana Regional Council of Governments was formed with the intention of studying the aquifer. The council includes commissioners from Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties; Williams, Fulton and Defiance counties in Ohio; and Lenawee, Hillsdale and Branch counties in Michigan. Meetings have been held in Bryan, Ohio.

Trine University professor Jeremy Rentz has given talks about the aquifer that include graphics and data to show how the water underneath the three states is connected. A substantial additional draw of water from Fayette, Ohio might first be noticed in Indiana at Clear Lake, which is at a high elevation and flows east, Rentz says.

The Michindoh Aquifer was created by glaciers around 14,000 years ago along with the area’s many lakes. The scope of the groundwater available under this region of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio is unknown outside of records kept by the United States Geological Survey.

Pete Hippensteel, a 40-year member of the Steuben County Lakes Council and retired Trine University professor, said there are many data gaps when it comes to Indiana water resources, including where groundwater is and how it flows. An Indiana University Purdue University study showed that for 162 Steuben County wells registered with the USGS, only 67 could be used to determine groundwater flow due to poor or inaccurate information.

World Water Day

World Water Day is March 22.

World Water Day is “about water and climate change — and how the two are inextricably linked,” says the official web site at worldwaterday.org. “Adapting to the water effects of climate change will protect health and save lives. Using water more efficiently will reduce greenhouse gases. We cannot afford to wait. Everyone has a role to play.”

A bill to ban water withdrawals for commercial bottled water production passed out of committee in the Washington State Senate earlier this month.

The bill would ban new water rights permits for withdrawals for bottled water extraction, and states “any use of water for the commercial production of bottled water is deemed to be detrimental to the public welfare and the public interest.”

The bill passed to the Senate rules committee on Feb. 7 with a majority vote by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks. The regular session of the Washington State Legislature ends March 12.

Being frugal with water resources is one facet of assuring a healthy supply for generations to come. Another facet is keeping the water clean.

“Ohio’s governor has authorized an ambitious plan that this year will begin offering farmers financial incentives to adopt new agriculture practices and will create a network of wetlands to capture and filter runoff from fields,” said a Jan. 29 article in The Detroit News. “The broad approach is being watched closely by states struggling with an increasing number of algae outbreaks. Some environmental groups are skeptical, but others that have been at odds with the farming industry are hopeful.”

On Jan. 28, a federal hearing on the Lake Erie Bill of Rights — passed one year ago by Toledo voters, making the lake a viable legal entity with the rights to protect itself — packed a U.S. District Courtroom in Ohio. Miles of floating toxic algae in Lake Erie — significantly caused by phosphorus runoff from farm fertilizers — is among the concerns that led to the passage of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

“The plaintiffs, a Wood County agricultural corporation called Drewes Farms Partnership, of Custar, Ohio, argues the successful citizen-led ballot initiative which Toledo voters approved at a special election last February by a 61-39 percent margin is so vague and far-reaching that it has the potential to drive some northwest Ohio farmers out of business,” wrote Toledo Blade reporter Tom Henry. “Their lawsuit, filed the day after that election, has been supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Judge Zouhary allowed the state of Ohio months ago to serve as a co-plaintiff.”

States have ownership of navigable water within the United States. According to Indiana and Ohio law, groundwater belongs to all residents equally.

“The State of Ohio attorneys argued that the state ‘owns Lake Erie.’ Further, they contended that the residents of Toledo have no power to use democracy to protect the lake and the people who depend on it,” said a Feb. 3 court update by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which supports LEBOR and other similar rights of nature initiatives across the globe.

No ruling has been registered in the case.

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