Some Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana residents are concerned about the underground Michindoh Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to nine counties, including Hillsdale. They say local communities could experience water shortages some town down the road if precautions are not made now.
Artesian of Pioneer, a water production company, seeks to build additional wells that would tap into the aquifer and sell the water to outside counties, including several suburb counties of Toledo, Ohio.
Dozens packed into the Hillsdale County Conservation Club on Tuesday night to listen to Jeremy Rentz, professor of environmental engineering at Trine University, speak about the state of the Michindoh Aquifer and how Hillsdale and the other counties about the aquifer could be affected in the future.
“I hope you all realize this aquifer is a spectacular resource for us,” Rentz said to the crowd. “Nine counties rely on it extensively for their drinking water.”
For lifelong Hillsdale resident Ted LoPresto, this meeting was the second presentation on the Michindoh aquifer by Rentz that he has attended. LoPresto said he appreciates Rentz’s lectures because of their educational nature.
“My biggest concern is that Artesian of Pioneer will get permission to go ahead with the wells,” LoPresto said.
Artesian of Pioneer is in the process of building new wells that could pull up to 10 million gallons-per-day from the Michindoh aquifer and bring the water to other counties such as Ohio’s Lucas, Fulton, and Henry counties, according to Rentz.
Current estimates put daily water usage for the nine Michindoh aquifer counties at 75 million gallons per day. This water supplies Michigan’s Hillsdale, Lewanee, and Branch counties; Indiana’s Steuben, DeKalb, and Allen counties; and Ohio’s Williams, Fulton, and Defiance counties.
“I personally think a 10 million gallons-per-day project, on top of everybody else’s 75 million gallons a day, is a pretty big deal,” Rentz said.
Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency did approve a tentative date for Artesian of Pioneer’s first production site, according to the Toledo Blade, but the process is still in the very early stages.
Many expressed concern about whether the aquifer could handle an additional 10 million gallons-per-day. Rentz said that while the aquifer has enough water, the water underground travels at an incredibly slow rate, leading to localized issues where wells are built.
“Water moves very slowly underground, and that’s why it’s not available across the aquifer instantly,” Rentz said. “You can’t possibly imagine how slow this water is going.”
According to Rentz, the aquifer isn’t necessarily getting empty, but if specific areas were to draw excessive amounts, problems could arise in those areas.
“Across the aquifer, we can handle 10 million gallons-per-day,” Rentz said. “But the problem here is that they want to pull 10 million gallons-per-day at a very specific location, and not all the water across the aquifer is available instantly.”
So while there is lots of water in the aquifer, Rentz said, all the water in the aquifer is not available for the Artesian of Pioneer project.
But just because there is a lot of water doesn’t mean that precautions don’t need to be taken, Rentz said. Aquifers running out of water is not improbable; it has happened across the United States.
“We have drained aquifers across the country, and to think that we can’t drain ours is rather absurd,” Rentz said.
While groundwater can be a renewable resource, Rentz said it must be managed properly.
“We have gotten lucky in the tri-state area for the past 200 years,” he said. “Going forward, if we add more 10 million gallons-per-day wells, that might not be the case.”
While Artesian of Pioneer is in its first stages for an initial project, there isn’t clarity about where one project might lead.
“Concern is not this singular project,” Rentz said. “Our concern is that this is the first project. What does the second project look like, or the third, or the fourth? And once one of these goes in, what is going to stop the second?”
Ward 4 Hillsdale City Councilman Ray Briner attended the meeting and said that he learned that for Hillsdale, there isn’t an immediate impact, but rather something that could cause problems down the road.
“What I learned is that it won’t be an immediate impact on residents in Michigan, since they’re looking right now at putting wells in Ohio,” Briner said. “The thing that would affect Michigan residents would be how close they are to the Ohio border.”
Briner said that the impact could happen 100 or 500 years from now, depending on how many people come and start building wells.
“The aquifer can only service so many people, and we have the perfect number of people right now,” Briner said.
For those interested in more information, a public information session will take place on March 12 at 6 p.m. at the Fayette Local School, 400 E. Gamble Rd., Fayette.