By Wally Kennedy
Marshall Long, who lives along Indian Creek in McDonald County, listened carefully Wednesday night as speaker after speaker talked about the pressure that is being placed on the Ozark aquifer to provide increasing amounts of water in the Tri-State Area.
One speaker said some communities, such as Noel and Carthage, might find themselves without sufficient water if water usage increased by as little as 1 percent annually each year from 2007 to 2057.
But Long paid particular attention to comments by Pete Rauch, public works director at Monett and a member of the Tri-State Water Resource Coalition. The coalition was formed in 2002 in response to a study that suggested the Joplin area could face a groundwater shortage in the future during a period of serious drought.
Since then, the coalition has explored the possibility of obtaining water from other sources. The coalition has found that it has two options: It can get water from a new reservoir or from a place where surface water is already being impounded, such as Table Rock Lake or Grand Lake of the Cherokees.
Long, whose property along Indian Creek would be flooded if a reservoir were constructed there, was relieved when he heard Rauch say that the coalition is actively pursuing water from an existing impoundment.
“My main concern was finding out more about the status of building a reservoir,” Long said. “I was encouraged by what he (Rauch) said. I don’t think I will have to deal with it in my lifetime.”
As for what he learned during the meeting, he said: “I understand there is an issue with the water. These people have re-emphasized that by putting all of the information in one place. It looks to me that water will become as valuable as fuel some day.”
Representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey unveiled a four-year study Wednesday night at Missouri Southern State University that suggests that the Ozark aquifer — a primary source of water for many municipalities in the Tri-State Area — could go dry in places if demand increases by as little as 1 percent annually over the next 50 years.
A model simulating groundwater withdrawal at future rates greater than actual 2006 rates suggested that the aquifer could be emptied near some municipalities.
Carthage and Noel, towns with industries that use large quantities of water, would be among the first to feel the impact of a groundwater shortage. Joplin and Miami, Okla., would be next if water usage in those communities were to increase dramatically. Among the communities least likely to be affected by a groundwater shortage is Pittsburg, Kan. That’s because Pittsburg is not a heavy user of water.
Research has shown that water levels have declined as much as 400 to 500 feet in some parts of the Ozark aquifer since 1960. Walt Aucott, with the USGS in Kansas, said the Ozark aquifer will continue to be part of the long-term water supply for the region, but users must remember that it is “a finite water source. The Ozark aquifer is a very stressed aquifer in some areas.”
Another McDonald County resident, Bill Miller, said it appeared to him that some communities may have to choose industries in the future that use less water.
Rauch said Monett, which has industries that are heavy water users, consumes 3.1 million gallons of water per day. The town, he said, has 8,000 residents but 12,000 jobs. Seventy percent of the water pumped in Monett is used by industry.
Lane Letourneau, with the water resources division of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said a moratorium on new deep-water wells in Southeast Kansas that has been in place since November 2007 could be affected by the study. Kansas officials are to decide by the end of the year whether the moratorium should remain in place or be lifted, he said.
Representatives of the USGS said the new study is the most complete analysis of the Ozark aquifer to date, but that more data is needed to better assess water usage and aquifer recharge in Missouri.
To learn more
“Groundwater-Flow Model of the Ozark Plateaus Aquifer System, Northwestern Arkansas, Southeastern Kansas, Southwestern Missouri, and Northeastern Oklahoma,” by John B. Czarnecki, Jonathan A. Gillip, Perry M. Jones and Daniel S. Yeatts, is available online at pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2009/5148.