Support is growing for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) — a state government entity that controls an 8,000-square mile watershed covering about one-fifth of the state — to sell water for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales, albeit on a temporary basis.

MWCD board members discussed the idea of authorizing temporary water sales to operators at their meeting on July 26, and it could be placed on the agenda as an action item at their next meeting scheduled for Aug. 24.

Sean Logan, conservation chief for the MWCD, told NGI the district is waiting for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to complete a study of three reservoir lakes under MWCD control to see if they can support withdrawals by operators. The lakes being studied are Atwood Lake in Carroll and Tuscarawas counties, Clendening Lake in Harrison County and Leesville Lake in Carroll County.

The district would like the USGS to study three additional lakes controlled by the MWCD: Piedmont Lake in Belmont, Guernsey and Harrison counties, Senecaville Lake in Guernsey and Noble counties, and Tappan Lake in Harrison County.

“We would like for them, at some point, to do all six,” Logan said. “It’s always been on the radar to do all six of the eastern reservoirs because there have been pending requests for well over a year to withdraw water. Those lakes are pretty much lined up in the heart of the plays from north to south.”

The idea of allowing temporary water sales to operators has even garnered the support of environmental groups, especially The Nature Conservancy in Ohio.

“An interim policy of a few water withdrawals carefully considered on a case-by-case basis from MWCD reservoirs are preferable to contractors removing these same volumes of water from many of the MWCD’s streams and the surrounding area, particularly during the low-flow period of late August and September,” John Stark, Ohio freshwater conservation director for the environmental group, said in a July 13 letter to the MWCD.

Separate from what the MWCD ultimately decides, regulators with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) are considering their own plans to sell water to operators for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Last month, a spokeswoman for the ODNR said there was no timetable or deadline for the agency to finalize its plans.

Last year Gov. John Kasich signed Substitute House Bill 133, which opened state-owned land — including state parks but not nature preserves — to oil and gas leasing (see NGI, June 20, 2011). It also established four classifications for all property owned or controlled by a state agency and required each agency to inventory and classify every parcel of land it owns.

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