Hearing on controversial southern Minnesota water bottling plant will continue next week

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A California-based company hopes to build a water bottling plant in Elko New Market, south of the Twin Cities. Critics worry it could jeopardize the health of the Prairie du Chien-Jordan aquifer in a region struggling already with severe to extreme drought.
Alex Friedrich | MPR News 2013

The Elko New Market City Council will resume a public hearing on a controversial water bottling plant proposal next week.

A meeting that stretched for more than four hours Thursday night included city staff reports and testimony from residents regarding Niagara Bottling’s proposed plant.

The council did not vote on the proposal, opting instead to continue the public hearing on Tuesday evening.

Niagara wants to spend $125 million to build a plant which city staff say will provide jobs and tax revenue — and be be a catalyst for further development in the city’s industrial park.

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The initial phase of the plant would use about 155 million gallons of water a year, which would increase to 310 million gallons with further expansion.

The city’s current permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources allows it to withdraw up to 135 million gallons of groundwater annually.

Among the opponents who spoke Thursday, Elko New Market resident Susan McPhee said she is worried about the plant’s potential impact on the aquifer where the city gets its drinking water. She also pointed out a proposal from the same company for a plant in Wisconsin drew similar opposition.

“I know some people believe that the aquifer can handle the taking of 310-million gallons of water a year from just one business. But as one Eau Claire protester stated, ‘Just because we currently have an abundant amount of water doesn't mean we should try to use it all,’ ” McPhee said.

The council will reconvene the public hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The DNR would also need to sign off on the project.