Public gets update on 5-year groundwater study in Chippewa Co. - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Public gets update on 5-year groundwater study in Chippewa Co.

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Chippewa County (WQOW) - The frac sand industry needs water, a lot of water.  That's one reason why Chippewa County is studying the potential impact on the groundwater. 

The county is six months into a five-year study and Tuesday, the public got an update.

The county says a sand mine might use up to 8 million gallons of water in a month.  This is not an apples to apples comparison, but to give you some perspective, the average American household uses 10,000 gallons a month

Seth Ebel, the Project Engineer for Chippewa County Land Conservation, says, "There's a bunch of demands on groundwater right now."

"The thing that is unique about this project is the specific focus on frac sand mining and irrigated agriculture," says Mike Parse, a hydro geologist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.  

Right now, there are six operational sand mines in Chippewa County. Ebel says, "We have had a significant increase, especially in western Chippewa County, especially in the last couple of years. The public has really had some concerns about that expansion and about the impacts potentially on ground water."

In response, Chippewa County is participating in a five-year study to monitor groundwater levels in the county.

"Any water use, whether it's a homeowner turning on the tap, flushing your toilet, a brewery pumping water from the ground to bottle beer, or processing sand at an industrial sand site, these are all users of water on the land site, and every use is going to have an impact," says Parsen.  

But, it's a matter of figuring out the type of impact.  Parsen says,"Will it be enough of an impact to actually lower a trout stream enough to create an adverse impact to that water? Is it enough to lower the water table enough where we would have water levels dropping lower than we want in neighboring wells? That's what we're looking at."

Since the study began last fall, three stream gauging stations have been set up, which are used to monitor water levels. The county is also working with all six mining sites.

Ebel says, "Out at the mine sites, the mine operators have been providing us information. Groundwater levels through their monitoring wells, we're gathering it through the stream gauges and then some more sophisticated testing that's going on."

One goal is for the study to serve as a model for surrounding counties in the future. "We want to come up with maybe rules of thumb, or other general concepts that can be transferred to other areas with similar geology like Eau Claire and like Dunn County."says Ebel.

The study will cost about $500,000, Chippewa County will pay for about $300,000.  Sand mining companies are also helping to cover the costs.            

The county plans to provide a yearly update as the study progresses. The first of those was a public event in bloomer Tuesday. The open house was held at the Bloomer Middle School.   

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