The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District intends to sell water from two reservoirs in eastern Ohio to natural gas drillers, despite an earlier plan to suspend sales until a water availability study was completed.
The district said it will sell water from Clendening Lake in Harrison County and Piedmont Lake, mostly in Belmont County, during the fall drawdown, when lakes are lowered for the winter.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the dams, typically lowers the lakes by several feet in the fall to allow them to refill over the winter with rain and melted snow.
The district’s governing board approved the sales from the two lakes at a meeting Friday and the district announced the plan Monday.
The district said water requests from drillers near Clendening and Piedmont “have increased sharply” in recent weeks.
Any water sales from the two lakes would reduce the wear and tear on local roads —and thus save taxpayers money — by cutting the number of tankers hauling water to new natural gas wells to be hydraulically fractured, or fracked, the district said in announcing the proposed sales.
Earlier this month, the Ohio Township Association’s board of directors had endorsed water sales to drillers from the winter drawdowns.
The volume of water and the price would still have to be negotiated, officials said.
Drillers have told the district they intend to begin drilling soon and will need water. Each well that is fracked typically takes 5 million to 10 million gallons of water.
“At drawdown, billions of gallons of water are released from the lakes, making this the optimum time to supply excess from the lakes to the oil and gas industry without any negative impacts on recreational activities of these two lakes, including boating,” said Sean Logan, the district’s chief of conservation.
An estimated 6 billion gallons of water from the two reservoirs would have been released this fall under normal operations, the district said.
“We do not need a study to verify that excess water is being released from the lakes during the drawdown period, which occurs each fall and winter,” Logan said.
Earlier in the year, the district, based in New Philadelphia, had approved the sale of up to 11 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake to Gulfport Energy Co. In June, however, the district said it was suspending sales to oil and gas companies pending a water availability study by the U.S. Geological Survey at three reservoirs: Atwood, Clendening and Leesville. Results from those studies are expected in December.
A vocal grass-roots group led the push to stop the water sales to drillers.
The district also has approved a new water availability study at Seneca Lake.
The district has three long-term contracts for water sales: with Cadiz for water from Tappan Lake, with Cambridge for backup drinking water from Seneca Lake and with Carroll County for water from Atwood Lake for Atwood Lake Resort.
The district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversee 16 reservoirs and dams in eastern Ohio to control flooding.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.