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Water Today Title July 23, 2018

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Feature


Update 2018/6/14
Contamination


MICHIGAN STATE ALLOWS POTASH WASTE WELLS NEAR NESTLÉ'S BOTTLING PLANT



This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems


By Michelle Moore


The Department of Environmental Quality for the state of Michigan in the United States has approved a permit request for 3 waste wells to be operated as part of a potash mine in Osceola County north of Grand Rapids.

According to Michigan Potash Co., deposits of up to $65 billion worth of potash are there for the taking in a project they say could be conducted over the next 100 to 150 years.

Potash is essentially potassium chloride, and is used in fertilizer for crops. The company plans to extract it by pumping large amounts of water into the ground.

The $700 million mining project would use nearly 2 million gallons of water daily to dissolve potash underground. Once the mineral is separated, the company plans to pump the water back underground.

In a statement given this spring, Theodore A. Pagano, Founder and Corporate Executive Officer of Michigan Potash Co. expressed the need to produce potash domestically. Pagano said that while the United States requires roughly 10 million tonnes of potash a year, they only produce 300 000 tonnes which forces them to import most of it.

Pagano said "what they discovered in 1989 was virtually the world's highest grade ore lying under Western Michigan within the United States corn belt so what makes it so unique is the sustainable advantage that Michigan particularly has to supply not only itself but its surrounding neighbours with a product that is desperately needed."

Pagano said the company aims to use less water than what they have been given permission to use by the Department of Environmental Quality. He said "the process we employ is actually one of the most state of the art, sophisticated industrial processes in the world to make a product very efficiently."

Opponents of the project released a press release June 5 voicing their concerns about how the project could affect the water table in a region that already has a major water bottling plant owned by Nestle just miles away. They worry the project could dry up or contaminate groundwater.

In a statement from Board Member for Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, Ken Ford said "it will dwarf Nestlé's water use and do even more damage to sensitive wetlands, private wells, and the Muskegon River watershed* than Nestlé's operation."

Ford points to the lack of transparency the company has shown but also criticized Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality for what they see as being lax towards mining companies in general.

Ford said "Michigan Potash is structured as a chain of shell-companies with limited liability. This means that, following a disastrous release of highly-concentrated and toxic brines into area aquifers and surface-waters, the owners can simply wash their hands of the whole sorry affair and leave local residents with a ruined environment and unusable wells."

The company must wait for more permit approvals to be granted before it can go forward with the project.

* The main branch of the Muskegon is approximately 219 miles long and flows from its headwaters at Houghton and Higgins Lake down to the mouth at Muskegon Lake, then eventually Lake Michigan.

m.moore@watertoday.ca





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