Lower rainfall totals in recent years have led to drought conditions and lower groundwater levels.

Wells deepen as water tables drop
Drought, industrial demand blamed.


Drying up Missouri
Drought conditions and growing residential and industrial demand for water are reducing water tables in parts of Missouri and pointing to the need for water resource conservation, say University of Missouri Extension experts.

The lack of rain and dry subsoil moisture have reduced the refilling of underground aquifers. Water quality specialists point to data from 75 Missouri Department of Natural Resources monitoring wells across the state that indicate many regions have lower groundwater levels than they did 10 years ago.

"You need time for the water to perk down into the water table to recharge it," said John Tharp, an Extension water quality specialist. "If you are drawing it down quicker than it can be recharged, that equates to a water shortage in the groundwater. Rivers and ponds are down, also."

The problem might be most acute in southwest Missouri. Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist, said streams in Webster and Christian counties are drying up that never have been dry before.

"Mostly it’s the lack of rainfall, as we’ve probably had 15 to 20 inches less rain here annually for the last two years than we normally get," Schultheis said. "We are looking at a lot more people moving into those counties, and every one of them is drilling a well to service their house. They are drawing down the water table that normally recharges the streams."

Schultheis said that in the past, people in southwest Missouri would drill 300 feet deep to hit an adequate water supply. Now, drillers have to go 500 to 600 feet before they find the same amount of water.

Tom Kruzen, a volunteer water quality sentinel for the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club, blamed unwise development that increased water runoff, preventing water from seeping down into aquifers.

"Of course we’ve got more people moving here, and we just need to be more conservative regarding ground water," Kruzen said. "Too much is used for industrial purposes without being recycled.

"What happens when you pave over the world is that you increase the runoff, and the water is not going to be around during drought conditions when you need it."

Don Day, natural resource engineer in the Boone County Extension office, works in 14 counties in central Missouri. He said the area is behind in rainfall, and subsoil moisture is low.

"Right now we are OK on water on the surface because we’ve had a little rain, but we are still short," Day said. He said that although water was needed to recharge ponds and reservoirs, he had no data regarding the area’s groundwater situation.

According to DNR, Missouri drills more than 6,500 new wells each year. Although many are for private homes, businesses and industry are major water users. Ethanol plants might use more than a million gallons of water a day.

Schultheis said a proposed ethanol plant for Webster County has raised concerns of residents who have shallow wells. He said they might have to dig deeper for water once the ethanol plant is in operation.

He also said that although discussions have begun about conserving water in Springfield, "by and large it hasn’t hit the radar of most people yet."

"Springfield pumps water from Stockton Lake to supply its reservoirs," Schultheis said. "Had they not been pumping 20 million to 30 million gallons a day from Stockton Lake, they would have been in critically low water supply levels."


Reach Terry Ganey at (573) 815-1708 or tganey@tribmail.com.
Ethanol plants damaging to local environment

StoryChat Post Comment

The recent story (Nov. 5 News-Leader) regarding corn ethanol plants in Missouri painted a biased rosy picture of a complex issue. In resorting to citing a nonscientist, Wallace Tyner, the reporter neglected to mention the severe problems associated with corn-derived ethanol. Fossil fuel is required for nearly every facet of growing corn, including transporting and planting seed, cultivating the soil, applying fertilizer and large amounts of herbicides and pesticides and harvesting the crop. Every acre of corn requires up to 58 pounds of nitrogen, which is produced at an energy cost of one gallon of gasoline for each four pounds of nitrogen.

As stated in Wikipedia, "When compared to petroleum fuel, producing and using corn-based ethanol results in only about a 13 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions é Moreover, overutilization of soil for corn has negative impacts of soil degradation."

The current production of corn is not sustainable for more than two to three decades. It cannot be grown forever because many scientists agree that corn depletes the soil even if methods of farming include crop rotation and no-till. Corn is also one of the crops requiring the most water.

The amount of water used to produce corn is so large, experts say that only treated sewage water should be used instead of mining water from the Ogallala aquifer under the Great Plains. When corn is shipped out, the water that was used to produce it is 100 times more than is being replaced to the aquifer. Needing between 1 and 2 million gallons a day of water, an ethanol plant can only obtain that water here from our underground water supply. Water is a precious commodity in the Ozarks. Not only is it easily depleted, but due to our karst topography, it is easily polluted through runoff. For example, toxic chemicals are used in the production process. How is the company going to handle toxic waste?

One final note: The local source of information, the Webster County Groundwater Impact Committee Report, which had been posted online through the University of Missouri Extension Service, is no longer available since it was summarily censored by the University of Missouri on Friday due to corporate pressure.

The public may soon have access to the information through the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks' Web site. I urge careful consideration of all the facts relating to corn-ethanol production before there is a rush to embrace an unsustainable industry.

Jan Wooten lives in Rogersville.