A press release received today:

The Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water (SOASOW), in affiliation with the FreshWater Accountability Project (www.FWAPOH.com) announced plans today to form a citizens’ group to hold the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) accountable to property owners and taxpayers within the largest conservancy district in Ohio. This initiative, “Stop MWCD Now,” will pick up from the last organized opposition due to the property owner tax assessment that was justified because of the MWCD’s claim that it provided value-added services for public benefit. “Now that the MWCD has been shown to operate more as a for-profit agency, serving the unconventional shale gas drilling industry, putting property owners’ health, water quality and home values at risk, we can again mount opposition to what we see as a money making agency that cares more about serving themselves and their favored projects than those who live within the district and pay taxes for its operation,” stated Lea Harper, co-founder of SOASOW.

The MWCD, which spans parts of 18 counties and covers 20% of the Ohio land mass, is responsible for water quality, flood control and public property protections throughout the Muskingum watershed. The conservancy district prevailed in court to assess property taxes based upon an amendment to the official plan to justify the next tax through its charter to act for public benefit. This is now being questioned because of the District’s support of the horizontal hydraulic fracking industry.

“The future impacts and cleanup costs because of engaging in this new, risky, temporary industry that destroys massive amounts of public drinking water supplies could be shoved onto taxpayers through increased assessments without input or recourse. The local library had to put a levy on the ballot to receive funds to operate. How can the MWCD raise taxes without vote and make decisions despite public protest? There is no accountability. We don’t have to stand by while the MWCD plunders the very resources they were created to protect. The District is accepting huge amounts of money from the oil and gas industry, without citizen vote on how to spend it, with no proof of future protection, or the development or creation of good, long-term jobs for local people,” stated Lea Harper. “That is why we have retained Greenfire LLC of Bloomington, Indiana to look into the MWCD books and expenditures. Greenfire has deep expertise and over 10 years of experience to assess agency budgets and the true costs to the public long term because of decisions to engage in fossil fuel extraction and the ongoing, increasing costs of pollution and necessary future remediation.

“Due to the great risks to the public of fracking, there is an urgent need for public awareness and taxpayer participation in decisions being made by the MWCD,” stated Lea Harper. “That is one of the reasons we created the FreshWater Accountability Project which is tracking public water sales activities throughout Ohio and provides information from agency records and other sources to expose the massive amount of water being destroyed and profits being made from supporting the temporary shale drilling industry. Ohio continues in a drought situation in many areas, and we see the destruction of our freshwater supplies by fracking as an immediate threat to the quantity and quality of freshwater for the future. A conservancy district should be acting to protect our public water rather than participating in its destruction.”

The MWCD continues to sign leases with private companies to frack next to and under reservoirs. The MWCD received over $40 million in signing bonuses so far, not including royalty payments. The MWCD is also selling reservoir water to oil and gas companies rather than seeking important protections as other conservancy districts in Ohio have done. The decisions to expose the public to the high risks of fracking are being made in closed meetings with drilling companies and publicly-paid consultants and lawyers, despite increasing protest. The MWCD plans to lease yet another reservoir, Seneca Lake, despite growing citizen opposition and a commissioned scientific report by a renowned hydrogeologist that strongly advises against fracking and urges better protection of reservoirs.

Residents in Southeast Ohio are becoming increasingly concerned about reports of water pollution and studies revealing adverse health effects because of air and water contamination from fracking. The true cost of fracking is not that well known and will not be revealed until years after the drillers are gone. Despite diminishing clean water supplies, water from MWCD reservoirs will be sold for injection into gas wells, becoming contaminated with toxins and radioactivity during the process of hydraulic fracturing, no longer usable for drinking water, recreation, fishing and agricultural purposes. Some of the contaminated water remains underground to eventually seep into remaining water supplies while some will be hauled to injection wells, which have triggered earthquakes and can eventually leak causing soil and water contamination. There is growing concern about the huge amount of water sold to the oil and gas companies for fracking that is removed from the hydrologic cycle forever, resulting in lost volume for environmental flow, storage capacity for future droughts and decreased property values around the lakes in the future.

Terry Lodge, attorney for SOASOW, stated that property values will likely decline because of compromised water quality and the fact that owners have no say in how their property taxes are assessed and spent in the future. “Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. The MWCD’s management of public lands and water is far from optimal. The citizens’ campaign was prompted by the District’s plans to exploit lands it is charged with conserving by promoting fracking and selling drillers the millions of gallons of water that will be destroyed with suspect legal authority and little knowledge or popular support from District residents.”

“Local residents are dealing with containing damage to local waters from acid mine drainage and non-compliant sewage disposal at reservoirs. At a time when the public must pay forever for the damage to our water from the contamination from strip mining and abandoned coal mines, a ‘conservancy’ is ignoring the reality of water contamination that has already happened due to fracking, looking to serve the drillers rather than the taxpayers and property owners,” stated Greg Pace of Guernsey County Concerned Citizens on Fracking Issues.” “Where do they get their facts? When I challenged the MWCD about dismissing the science they were given to review, they told me they disagreed with the facts presented and would proceed as they wanted.”

The SOASOW is concerned about the impacts of fracking on Seneca Lake outlined in a report by Paul Rubin of Hydroquest. “The Rubin report appears to have been completely ignored by the MWCD. The District continues its headlong rush to lease Seneca Lake despite the fact that this noted hydrogeologist advises strongly against this,” stated Lea Harper. “Because of this, the citizens’ group has retained Greenfire Consulting Group to look into MWCD’s decision-making process regarding fracking leases and water sales and any fiscal responsibility irregularities and issues. It is grossly unfair and even un-American to be taxed without the ability to have a vote on decisions that affect us. Property owners have no say about how valuable public assets are sold by the MWCD for profit while putting the public on the hook for all future costs of water testing, clean-up and remediation, if even possible, after a reservoir is contaminated. This citizen’s group will work to change legislation, increase transparency and institute controls to make the conservancy district more accountable to the public in order to maintain fiscal responsibilities and protect property values and important resources for the future.”

For a personal invitation to the organizing meeting in January 2013 or for more information, contact Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save our Water on Facebook, visit the FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio website at www.FWAPOH.com, call 888-287-6068 or email stopmwcdnow@yahoo.com.