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Another water grab? Potential potash mine concerns activists

Flitn River
Courtesy of the Flint River Watershed Coalition
Flint River Watershed Coalition

After battling bottled water giant Nestle, residents and concerned citizens near Evart now are trying to keep another company from drawing down and potentially contaminating their water supply.

Just six miles from Nestle's wells, Michigan Potash, a Colorado-based company, is seeking permits to drill 11 injection wells for a potash mining operation. Potash, a mineral element, is naturally occurring in Michigan and is used in many forms of fertilizer.

Ken Ford, a wildlife manager who lives near the proposed site, said the process, which pumps huge quantities of fresh water into deep salt formations, could potentially draw down the water tables, dry up local streams and rivers, and reduce the flow into the Muskegon River.

"It requires 1,200 gallons per minute of fresh, clean water - drinking water - to create these potash cavities," Ford said. "So 1,200 gallons per minute equates to 1,728,000 gallons per day."

As part of the process, the freshwater is mixed with mined salts and the hot, brine solution is pumped under high pressure to refineries and disposal wells.

A permitting hearing was held before the Environmental Protection Agency in January, but no decision has been made. The application also is being reviewed at the state level by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Ford said that at least two other companies have tried unsuccessfully to operate potash mines in the same area. He said residents have paid a high price for the failed ventures.

"A lot of our roads got destroyed, the air quality was terrible, there are times when your eyes burn," he said. "You worry about what that stuff's doing to the environment, truck traffic, and noise, and then the water pollution."

Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation is among the groups opposing the operation. Their analysis has concluded the aquifer cannot sustain the intended water withdrawals, and that permanent damage to the environment would result.

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