NEW PHILADELPHIA - Officials overseeing reservoirs in Ohio's largest contained watershed have decided to halt water sales to oil and gas drillers in response to environmental concerns as they await a water-availability study.
Environmentalists and other members of the public have raised concerns about the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District selling water to drillers for use in hydraulic fracturing, which injects millions of gallons of chemical-laced water into the earth at high pressure to free gas. Environmental groups have said they fear that drawing the water from reservoirs could leave insufficient water supplies for the public and wildlife.
Conservancy district executive director John Hoopingarner said it's in the public's interest to stop the sales until the district receives an independent water-availability study and updates its water supply policy.
"We want to fully understand the concerns of interested groups and the public and ensure that each step in the process is transparent and open for public review," Hoopingarner said in a release Thursday.
The conservancy district said the moratorium on new sales will not affect a previously-approved sale of up to 11 million gallons from Clendening Reservoir in Harrison County to Oklahoma-based Gulfport Energy Co. The Clendening reservoir typically contains about 8.6 billion gallons of water.
The Ohio Environmental Council, the Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water and the Buckeye Forest Council praised the district's decision stopping sales for now.
Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council, said in a release that the public has raised valid concerns and there is "much scientific information and public opinion to be gathered."
But Cadiz officials are disappointed with the district's decision, The Times-Reporter in New Philadelphia reported.
"Their inaction will cause an increase in truck traffic, random withdrawals of water from creeks and streams in the watershed and will slow down the pace of oil and gas development because of the difficulty in finding water," Rich Milleson, economic development director for the Cadiz Community Improvement Corp., told the newspaper.
The village hoped to get conservancy district approval to increase its purchase of water from Tappan Lake and resell the extra water to oil and gas companies.
The village buys lake water for its municipal water supply, but wants to use money from the sale of extra water to rebuild and expand its waste water treatment plant to meet Ohio Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Milleson says more research isn't necessary.
"They have the science to know they can withdraw great amounts of water from those lakes without any impact," Milleson said.
The conservancy district hopes to have results this year from a water-availability study of three of its reservoirs by the U.S. Geological Survey. The district approved the study of the Atwood, Clendening and Leesville reservoirs earlier this year.
The MWCD covers more than 8,000 square miles, or about 20 percent of Ohio, from just above Canton to Marietta and drains into the Muskingum River. Overall, the MWCD spans five counties and portions of 22 others and includes a system of 16 reservoirs.
The conservancy district, formed in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, has authority under Ohio law to sell water from its reservoirs.