Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sand Mine Turns on Well, Neighboring Farm Loses Water

U.S. Silica began pumping water three months ago from a well it drilled a year ago on its sand mine
Jorgenson Farm/Marcus Frazee photo
in Sparta, Wis., and last week, a nearby dairy farm's artesian well went dry. The farm, owned by Ardis Jorgenson, a 78-year-old widow,  and operated by her son, Dale, has been drawing water from that well for more than a century. Saturday, that well produced no water; the Jorgenson's more than 100 head of cattle started bellowing in distress.

Dale Jorgenson began a desperate scramble for water. The Jorgenson's have an interim water supply, city water brought in by milk truck, but no long term solution.

Mrs. Jorgenson said that the family realized that the sand mine could shut down their water supply a year ago, after U.S. Silica drilled the well. The farm was without water for a few days; lack of water cut their milk production and hurt their income. Mrs. Jorgenson said that U.S. Silica refused to offer them compensation.

She said that U.S. Silica had offered to drill a well for the family, but would not guarantee that well for more than a year.

Jeff Jahn, mine planning and development manager for U.S. Silica, who has been the liason for U.S. Silica in Sparta, said that the company is monitoring its water use closely because it knows that its water consumption may affect the Jorgenson farm's water supply.

"We have worked hard over the past year and will continue to work on implementing a permanent solution that would involve either deepening the existing well or drilling a new well, but these offers up to now have not been acceptable to Mrs. Jorgenson," Jahn said in an email. He added that U.S. Silica would try to minimize its water use. "There may be a point where the Jorgenson well will continue to flow as normal," he wrote in an emailed response to questions about the situation.

Although U.S. Silica drilled the well a year ago, it did not begin taking water from the well until late December, according to Mike Lawson, director of investor relations and corporate communications for U.S. Silica. He said that the sand mine is using 240 gallons per minute and said that that is "well within our permit allowance."

Mrs. Jorgenson said that her father-in-law had purchased the farm when he emigrated to the U.S. from Denmark. She and her late husband, Alfred, raised six children on the farm.

She said that the artesian well needs no pump, it fills a holding tank and the Jorgenson's use a pump to pipe the water to the barn. If the sand mine did dig a well for the farm, the family would need a pump to bring the water to the surface and pipe it into the barn. The cows, she said, can taste the difference between artesian well water and chlorinated city water.

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