Permission to sell Iowa water to arid west requested, denied

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The Jordan Aquifer (formally the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer) underlies most of Iowa and much of the Midwest (via USGS).

Julia Poska | February 6, 2020

Last week, northeast Iowa’s Pattison Sand Co. requested a state permit to sell 2 billion gallons of Jordan Aquifer water annually to water-poor states in the western U.S.

The company, which primarily mines sand for fracking operations, did not identify the arid states to which it would ship water, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. Pattison said it intended to increase withdrawals from wells it already owns and ship the water west via a company called Water Train.

The unprecedented request sparked concern among stakeholders throughout the state, including lawmakers, utilities and environmentalists. The Jordan Aquifer, pictured above, is a major source of groundwater throughout Iowa and in parts of six other Midwestern states.

Expanding agriculture, ethanol production and municipal populations have created increasing demand on the Jordan, while recharge in some areas takes thousands of years.

In northeast Iowa, where Pattison mines outside of Clayton, the aquifer sits near the surface, allowing for easy access and recharge. One state geologist told the Des Moines Register that the northeast Iowa part of the aquifer could likely provide 2 billion gallons. Another told the Capital Dispatch more study would “definitely” be needed to determine impacts elsewhere in the state.

Iowa announced Wednesday intent to reject Pattison’s request, citing “negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources,” the Register reported. Pattison may submit “clarifying comments” before Feb. 14.





Study finds Iowa groundwater is extracted at unsustainable rate

The Jordan Aquifer lies beneath most of Iowa; locations with water use permits for tapping into the aquifer are shown above. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2017

A recent study found the groundwater in Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer to be much older than previously known, and scientists say that could have implications for water use in the state.

Researchers from the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa in collaboration with Grinnell College, the UI Geology Department and Iowa Department of Natural Resources used isotopic age dating to estimate the age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer. The study measured major and minor ions, stable isotopes (d18O and dD) and
the radioactive isotope Chlorine 36 in eight wells scattered across the aquifer. The peer-reviewed journal article explains that the groundwater in northern and central Iowa is somewhere between 70,000 to nearly 180,000 years old.

The study points out that ethanol production in the state relies heavily on groundwater from the Jordan aquifer, which also provides roughly 300,000 residents with drinking water. From 2003 to 2013, annual use of groundwater from the aquifer for ethanol production increased by 7.4 billion liters per year.

Keith Schilling is a research scientist at the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa and the study’s leading author. He said,

“The implications for biofuel refineries and any water use of the aquifer is the realization that the groundwater is very old. It is not going to be recharged in any human timeframes so we should make sure that water from the aquifer is being managed appropriately.”

Beyond the lagging groundwater regeneration rate, the study also notes that increased groundwater pumping can result in detrimental water quality changes such as radium contamination. The authors conclude with a call for new ethanol refineries to steer clear of the Jordan Aquifer and utilize more sustainable groundwater sources instead.

New rules for Jordan Aquifer under review

Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
KC McGinnis | February 18, 2015

In a meeting Tuesday, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission approved a plan to look into new rules for using the Jordan Aquifer, an underground water source that supplies water to much of the state. Increased demand has strained the aquifer, leading to concerns that the state may need to take action to preserve it.

The proposed rules included new limits on cooling and geothermal use, as well as a new classification system that would arrange aquifer use into three tiers based on depth. Users pumping 300 feet below 1978 levels will be required to follow a water use reduction plan, while users pumping 400 feet below would have to minimize use altogether.

The proposed rules also included the creation of two “protected source areas” in Johnson/Linn Counties and Webster County. This would require that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources conduct all permitting for new well construction within those areas.

These recommendations will be open for public comment at meetings around the state in April. For the complete report from Tuesday’s meeting, visit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

On the Radio: Water demand strains Jordan Aquifer

Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
November 24, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at recent news surrounding Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Jordan Aquifer

Increased water demand in Iowa is straining one of the state’s largest underground aquifers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Des Moines Register reports that the Jordan Aquifer – which supplies about half a million Iowans with water – is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself.

Last year Iowa drew nearly 26 billion gallons from the aquifer which is a 72 percent increase since the 1970s. Nearly 200 businesses, municipalities, universities, and other entities tap into the Jordan Aquifer with about 345 wells across the state. Parts of southwest Iowa need to drill as deep as 2,500 feet underground to extract water from the aquifer.

This increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuels industry, which requires large quantities of purified water during the production process. Roughly 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production with some facilities using as much as 200 million gallons of water each year.

For more information about the Jordan Aquifer and water use in Iowa visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Increased water consumption in Iowa strains Jordan Aquifer


Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)

Nick Fetty | November 18, 2014

Water demands in Iowa are exceeding the predominate aquifer’s ability to replenish itself and this could have detrimental long term effects on the state’s economy, according to the Des Moines Register.

The Jordan Aquifer – which also supplies water for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin – is the water source for approximately half a million Iowans. Cities such as Cedar Rapids, Fort Dodge, and Iowa City in particular are drawing water from the aquifer faster than it can replenish itself which means these communities could see restrictions on water usage if proactive efforts to curb water usage are not implemented.

The recent increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuel industry which requires large amounts of purified water during the production process. Some older facilities in Iowa use as much as 200 million gallons of water each year. Approximately 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production.

Last year families and businesses in Iowa used nearly 26 billion gallons of water from the aquifer. This is a 72 percent increase compared to water usage in the 1970s. Again much of the water usage can be attributed to the biofuels industry in Iowa which went into operation in the 1990s.

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday to hear recommendations about whether immediate action is needed to preserve the aquifer. Concerns for aquifer retention are not unique the Midwest and have also affected the western United States and even the Middle East.