SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Although Missouri American Water Co. isn't yet focused on acquiring land for its planned reservoir project in Newton County, the company has already purchased one property, with another potential purchase in the works, according to one official.

An update on the reservoir project was given Thursday by Matt Barnhart, a senior operations manager with the company, at the annual conference of the Tri-State Water Resource Coalition in Springfield.

Plans call for the utility to build a reservoir of up to 1,500 acres off-site from Shoal Creek in the area southeast of Joplin. The reservoir is needed, Missouri American has said, to help address a projected shortfall in the area’s long-term water supply.

The site Missouri American has chosen is on the east side of Interstate 49 north of Route MM, west of Nighthawk Road and south of Elder Road in Newton County. A reservoir built on this site would affect parts of Marten, Lime Kiln, Carver and Foliage roads, and would affect Baynham Branch, a tributary to Shoal Creek. A total of 91 property owners and approximately 1,200 acres would be affected.

The area that would be served by the reservoir uses an average of 16 million gallons of water per day, with a peak usage of 23 million gallons per day, Barnhart said. Most of that water is supplied by Shoal Creek; in addition, there are 10 wells that can produce a maximum of 4 million gallons per day.

But water levels in the creek can fluctuate, Barnhart said. In 2006, for example, Missouri American Water was within hours of calling for mandatory conservation measures because of low flow in Shoal Creek on 10 separate occasions, he said.

"Here's the problem with Shoal Creek — on a Monday, you could be fine, but by Friday you could be in a world of trouble," he said.

Missouri American has begun the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Barnhart said. It's a process that, alongside designing the reservoir, could take until 2022.

That process will include addressing all environmental factors and proving the need for the reservoir. It also will include public meetings with review and input from stakeholders, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Public Service Commission and Newton County.

The utility will coordinate with property owners over the next several years and begin acquiring the land needed for the reservoir by 2022. At least one buyout has already occurred with a property owner who was struggling to sell because of the uncertainty associated with the reservoir's impact on his property, and the company is awaiting an appraisal on a second property, Barnhart said.

Eminent domain will remain an option if necessary.

"It's not anybody's goal — we've said that from the beginning," he said. "But we do have that right."

If all goes as planned, construction could begin as early as 2023, with completion by 2026.

The utility initially identified 12 possible sites for the reservoir to be constructed, eliminating 10 of them because of environmental or cost issues. The remaining two sites were announced late last year, and Missouri American officials held a series of meetings with property owners on both sites about the project before selecting one location.

"They (the property owners) are paying the ultimate price for everybody else to have water now and in the future," Barnhart said.

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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