PIONEER, Ohio (WANE) – A proposal to draw 5 million gallons of water daily from the MichinDoh aquifer and discharge the effluent into the St. Joseph River is under EPA scrutiny.

During a public meeting Monday evening in Pioneer, Ohio, the Ohio EPA took comments for a wastewater discharge permit and another permit to construct a wastewater treatment plant for the proposed AquaBounty aquaculture facility. 

The meeting began at 6 p.m. with an information session and a hearing to follow at the North Central Local High School varsity gymnasium, 400 Baubice St. in Pioneer.

Dozens of protestors showed up to the public meeting to protest the application. Others were concerned about the water being pulled out decreasing their well pressure with one disgruntled man saying if the project went through his personal well would be, “drier than a popcorn fart.”

Another asked, “at 5 million gallons a day how long does Aquabounty plan on being here?” to which another protester said, “until we’re a desert.”

Environmental activists are warning that if AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based salmon farming operation, is approved for this application, it will open the door to more corporations seeking to tap into a finite resource.

AquaBounty has proposed building a 479,000 square foot, $320 million facility, bigger than the 122,000 square foot salmon farm it currently operates in Albany, Indiana that discharges into the Mississinewa River. In June, WANE obtained copies of violations filed against the plant by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that included higher amounts of fecal coliform and ammonia.

Opponents also have concerns about discharge that could potentially leak contamination and genetically-altered fish into the St. Joe that supplies most of the drinking water for Allen County.

In response to an email query, spokeswoman Dina Pierce said the Ohio EPA reviews all wastewater discharge permit applications “focusing on impacts to water quality of the receiving streams.

“The review ensures that a stream’s existing water quality will be maintained if a discharge permit is granted. Water quality standards are designed to protect both human health and the environment,” Pierce wrote.

AquaBounty told WANE in June just prior to a town hall meeting that the company will operate on “state-of-the-art RAS technology and overall facility design.” The company believes that producing genetically engineered salmon will help relieve pressure on wild salmon stocks and use natural resources sustainably.

Doug Fasick, executive director of the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative here, and Tom Selman, Angola’s water superintendent, have expressed concerns.

Fasick said in June in an email that AquaBounty infers recycling when millions of gallons will be pumped from one source – the aquifer – and discharged to the river’s surface water.

“The environmental and ecological impacts from extra discharge into the surface waters of the St. Joseph River need to be studied,” Fasick said.

Another concern is the daily load on to the river, an estimated extra 8.03 cubic feet per second to the river’s flow. By comparison, a year ago in September, the river’s average flow was “only 18.6 cubic feet per second so the discharge amount will increase by a very significant 43.4%,” Fasick said.

“Studies should include impacts to the downstream towns of Auburn, Garrett and Fort Wayne,” wrote Fasick, who is the manager of engineering, energy engineering and sustainability services at City Utilities Engineering in Fort Wayne. 

“Temperature control for this facility may also cause environmental impacts to biota in the receiving stream and the St. Joseph River. The application does not address mitigation strategies for temperature differentials between discharged water at 52 degrees Fahrenheit and that of ambient water.”

The MichinDoh aquifer supplies water to lower Michigan, northwest Ohio and Steuben and DeKalb counties in Indiana, a region that currently pumps about 75 gallons daily to serve residents’ needs, according to Selman. 

“It is easy to think we are blessed with this great resource, but just look around at so many other states and the problems they have because of the overuse of their resources,” Selman said.

Andrea Hamman, president of the Fort Wayne-based Save Maumee Grassroots Organization, planned to attend the hearing as she’s attended similar meetings before. The St. Joseph River flows into the Maumee as does the St. Marys River, starting at Headwaters in downtown Fort Wayne.

Her organization is concerned that any impacts on the St. Joseph River will impact the Maumee, she said.

The MichinDoh Water Warriors have fought the town of Pioneer on other applications. “They say they’re going to be a good steward,” said Susan Catterall Kipfer, a member of the MichinDoh Water Warriors and Steuben County resident. “I don’t think a 5- million gallon a day pump and dump operation is good stewardship.”

Many protesters were disappointed that Aquabounty themselves were not present at the meeting. As a result, the EPA was unable to answer many questions directed at the company from those in the audience. They were also unable to answer many questions about the amount of water being withdrawn as water withdrawal is handled by the DNR, not the EPA.