• WisBusiness

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GreenBiz: For-profit well raises concerns about Crawford Co. trout stream

By Gregg Hoffmann
A proposed for-profit well in Crawford County has raised concerns from trout fishers, environmentalists and others who have formed the “Save Copper Creek” organization.

Dr. Darrell Long of Lima, Ohio, who owns the Town of Utica property on which the well would be located, says it will be used only to supply emergency water to nearby users -- local fire departments, water utilities, farming operations or local residents in time of crisis.

Long’s permit forbids him from developing a well for full scale commercial bottling, but he does plan to make a profit from the well, which will cost about $25,000. The well could pump up to 500,000 gallons of water per day.

The Department of Natural Resources' preliminary approval of the well includes limits on the amount and purposes of withdrawals. Final approval could come on July 22.

In an interview with WDRT, a community radio station in Viroqua, Long said he originally wanted to bottle and sell regular drinking water, and perhaps “help the juicing industry.” But he's willing to limit the well for “emergency water” use.

“We will comply with any restrictions in the DNR permit,” Long said, adding he hopes to make a profit selling within an 80-mile radius and for the emergency purposes mentioned in the preliminary DNR permit.

He expressed some disappointment with opposition groups, saying to some degree he “smells a little bit of Gestapo here.”

“Some people feel the DNR has too much power in this state,” Long said. “Some of the people who oppose this came from elsewhere in the state, where they stopped other proposals for bottling water.”

Long said he doesn't believe his immediate neighbors oppose his proposal.

The DNR did an environmental assessment because the well will be within 550 feet of the North Branch of Cooper Creek, a Class I trout stream. But critics contend the assessment doesn’t go far enough.

“Save Cooper Creek continues to have grave concerns about the proposed high-capacity well,” read a statement released by the group. Monitoring, enforcement and verification of the well use could “still be major problems,” the group says.

“Furthermore, we question the scientific conclusions on which the DNR’s decision relies. We have consulted with reputable hydro-geologists and fisheries biologists who have serious reservations about the environmental analysis done by the department.”

The group and its supporters also worry that the “emergency” uses for water from the well would be determined by Long. No other prohibitions are spelled out by the DNR, they say.

The critics also point out that no local governments, agencies or FEMA have asked Long to put in the well. They also have concerns about truck traffic, if indeed the water was transported elsewhere, and the effects on the wells of surrounding landowners.

State Sen. Dan Kapanke sent a “letter of concern” to Lawrence Lynch, the hydro-geologist for the DNR who has been handling the Long permit.

“As you will agree, it is unique to request a high-capacity well with the intended use as a backup water supply for a local municipality during emergency,” Kapanke, R-La Crosse, wrote. “In addition, Mr. Long has indicated that he intended to sell the water to individuals such as farmers. With that in mind, it raises legitimate questions regarding the details of the application.”

Kapanke said discussions with local officials didn't make it appear “there was neither a request nor articulated future need for emergency water services.” Kapanke also raised questions about the overall impact of water withdrawal on the environment.

-- Hoffmann has written many columns and features for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com over the years. He writes the GreenBiz column monthly.

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