MWCD Board authorizes water sales at 2 lakes in 'drawdown'

September 24, 2012

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) will consider short-term sales of water from Clendening and Piedmont lakes to the oil and gas industry to reduce the pounding of tanker trucks on rural roads during the upcoming lake “drawdown” period when billions of gallons of water are released downstream as part of routine flood reduction operations.


Members of the MWCD Board of Directors authorized the temporary water sales, which are limited to those two lakes only and will be negotiated with the industry and capped at designated amounts, after receiving an update on oil and gas activities at the MWCD lake regions during a Board meeting held Friday (Sept. 21).


Requests for water from the MWCD by companies preparing to drill wells near the Clendening and Piedmont lake areas for exploration in the Utica shale regions have increased sharply in recent weeks as drilling operations are expected to begin soon.


“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 at these two lakes, including boating,” said Sean D. Logan, MWCD chief of conservation.


By removing the water from the lakes, potentially thousands of loaded tanker truck trips will be eliminated across township and county roads that normally are not constructed to withstand such activity, reducing inconveniences for residents of the regions and the additional hassle and expenses for township governments for road repairs.


Earlier this month, the Ohio Township Association Board of Directors approved a resolution endorsing “temporary” sales of water from MWCD lakes for oil and gas activities, citing the lakes as “the most appropriate source of water supply” for the hydraulic fracturing process used for development of Utica shale operations and that by obtaining water from the MWCD lakes, truck traffic will be reduced, reducing damage to township roads.


The MWCD Board directed that any sales from either Clendening Lake in Harrison County or Piedmont Lake, located primarily in Belmont County, can occur only during the upcoming fall and winter months when lake levels are in “drawdown stage,” or reduced as part of the flood-control operations conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which manages the dams at the MWCD lakes. In order to provide for flood-storage capacity of water during the winter months, the USACE reduces the levels of all of the MWCD lakes by varying amounts of several feet each before “refilling” them beginning in late winter and early spring. These operations result in the release of billions of gallons of water from the lakes during the fall and winter, which is in contrast to the small fraction of the amounts of water being requested by the oil and gas companies.


The combined amount of water released from Clendening and Piedmont lakes during the drawdown operations is more than 6 billion gallons. The amount normally required by oil and gas companies for the hydraulic fracturing process at individual well sites ranges from 5 million to 10 million gallons of water.


Earlier this year, the MWCD Board approved one water supply agreement for up to 11 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake to be sold to Gulfport Energy Co., or less than 1 percent of the overall volume more than 8 billion gallons of water estimated in the lake during summer lake levels. A temporary pipeline was used to draw a total of nearly 8 million gallons of water from the lake for drilling operations at a Gulfport well site nearby.


The MWCD has received numerous other inquiries about the potential of water supply from many of its lakes over the past year.


Any water supply agreements approved by the MWCD include provisions that the MWCD has the right to cancel the deals if any negative interruptions in recreational and normal operations at the lakes are suspected or identified.


In June, the MWCD announced that it would suspend sales of water to the oil and gas industry pending the completion of water availability studies to be completed at Atwood, Clendening and Leesville lakes by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Those studies have not been completed as information from them is expected sometime around the end of this year.


But oil and gas firms have informed MWCD staff members that they plan to begin drilling wells in a matter of a few weeks near Clendening and Piedmont lakes and they are requesting to withdraw water directly from the two lakes. If they are unable to access the two lakes, they have reported to the MWCD that they will find other sources of water and use tanker trucks to deliver it to the well sites, all of which are located in rural regions.


“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.


During Friday’s meeting, the Board also approved a water availability study with an international engineering firm to be conducted at Seneca Lake, where requests for water sales have increased recently, too, according to MWCD staff members. CH2M Hill Engineering, headquartered in Colorado and with offices in Columbus, will begin the study immediately and be paid $20,000. The engineering firm provides services to clients around the world ranging from environmental management and planning to energy management, decontamination, construction management, industrial safety, infrastructure planning and more.


The MWCD has legal authority according to state law to sell water from the reservoirs and the use of water for beneficial public uses including consumptive, domestic and industrial uses was one of the two primary purposes cited for the organization of the MWCD in 1933. The other primary purpose was to reduce the effects of flooding in the Muskingum River Watershed and the eventual construction of the 16 reservoirs and dams allows for the effective management of those two objectives.


Three long-term contracts for water supply from MWCD reservoirs are in place. They are with the Village of Cadiz in Harrison County for water from Tappan Lake for the village’s municipal water supply, with the City of Cambridge in Guernsey County for an emergency backup supply of water from Seneca Lake for its municipal supply, and with Carroll County for water from Atwood Lake for the county’s operation of Atwood Lake Resort.


The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, the largest wholly contained watershed in Ohio. Since their construction, the 16 reservoirs and dams in the MWCD region have been credited for saving more than $10 billion worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to the federal government, as well as providing popular recreational opportunities that bolster the region’s economy. A significant portion of the reservoirs are managed by the MWCD and the dams are managed for flood-risk management by the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).


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