CRUMP, Mo. -- A proposed power plant in southwestern Cape Girardeau County would use more water daily than the entire city of Jackson, Mo.
That's 2.69 million gallons of well water churning through the Kinder Morgan Power Co. plant each day, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources says. By comparison, Jackson -- with a population approaching 12,000 -- uses up to 1.5 million gallons of water daily.
The power plant, proposed to be built along Route U south of Crump, needs all that water to cool the turbines that generate electricity.
Kinder Morgan execs are embroiled in a battle with the DNR and unhappy neighbors over the $250 million, 550-megawatt plant, which would be financed through bonds issued by Cape Girardeau County. DNR officials want emissions reductions, and neighbors fear plant operations will be too loud and will drop the water table, requiring deeper wells.
Executives with the Lakewood, Colo.-based energy company have compared the expected water usage to the amount needed to irrigate a golf course. But the operators of local golf courses say they use far less water than Kinder Morgan would use to cool its plant.
Kinder Morgan executives say the plant would use 2,800 gallons of water a minute from 1,600-foot-deep wells when the turbines are running.
Jim Vandike, chief of the DNR's groundwater section, has crunched the numbers. "You are looking at about 980 million gallons a year," he said. That amount equals the water usage in a city of 15,000 people, Vandike said.
The power company continues to study any effects the pumping might have on neighbors, but has issued preliminary findings that wells farther than 1 mile from the plant won't be affected. County Commissioner Larry Bock said there are six dwellings within a mile of the plant.
Still, in the rolling farm land of southwest Cape Girardeau County, the prospect of such staggering water usage worries residents. There's no public water district to serve them. They depend entirely on private wells.
"Without water, we can't live where we live," said Cheryl Kieffer, who teaches in the nursing department at Southeast Missouri State University.
Digging new, deeper wells would cost thousands of dollars. Kieffer said she and her husband spent $7,000 for a 285-foot well to serve their rural Whitewater, Mo., home in 1987. They live 3.5 miles from the proposed plant.
George Keeler of Gordonville, Mo., has been in the well drilling business for nearly 40 years. Keeler said the cost of drilling a 300-foot well could cost $8,000, including the pump, piping and the metal casing of the well. He believes the proposed power plant's massive use of water could affect area residents' wells.
But the DNR's Vandike, who works out of Rolla, Mo., said any significant draw down likely would occur only within a mile radius of the plant. Even if that happened, he said, the state would have no control other than to see that the wells were properly installed. Those near the plant might have to dig deeper wells or set up a water district, he said.
The DNR, however, has yet to approve the project. The agency says it won't issue a construction permit unless Kinder Morgan adds equipment to control smog-producing emissions, reduces the planned hours of operation or turns to a different generating system. The company has appealed to Missouri's Air Conservation Commission in an effort to build the plant.
Kinder Morgan plans to pump water out of the same aquifer or underground water supply that serves area residents.
It's a huge aquifer, extending throughout southern Missouri. "It is well over 2,000 feet thick," said Vandike.
Kinder Morgan executives have identified it as the same aquifer that serves Memphis, Tenn. But Vandike said that Memphis gets its water from a different aquifer.
Vandike said underground water is in layers of rock. "Water is not coming out of a big underground lake," he said.
Smith & Co., a Poplar Bluff, Mo., engineering company contracted by Kinder Morgan, has studied the water situation and concluded there's plenty of water to supply the plant. Paul Ridlen, a project manager for Smith & Co., said the plant should have little impact on the wells of most Whitewater and Crump area residents.
The 1,600-foot wells are far deeper than other wells in that area. "No one has drilled that deep in that area before," Ridlen said.
The power company isn't discussing reparations should neighbors' wells be affected.
Golf course comparison
J.D. Hopper, vice president and general manager of Kinder Morgan Power Co., compared the plant's projected water usage to watering a golf course, and the comparison isn't exact. Hopper said he was speaking about golf courses in Colorado and other Western states that typically use a million gallons a day.
That still would be far less than the plant would use, and golf course operators in Cape Girardeau County say the comparison is even less valid locally.
Bent Creek Golf Course in Jackson uses 200,000 to 215,000 gallons at most during the night, and that's only when all 50 to 60 acres on the 18-hole course are being watered, which depends on the weather, said Todd Koch, course superintendent.
Koch estimates the course is watered regularly about six months out of the year at most. The course is watered from a lake, which is connected to a well.
The Cape Girardeau Country Club irrigates its 18-hole course from a lake, which is fed by two small wells and rainwater runoff. Brad Twidwell, golf course superintendent, said the computer-controlled irrigation system can use as much as 280,000 gallons in a 12-hour nighttime cycle.
But that's not even close to what the power plant would use. "I couldn't pump that much if I wanted to," he said.
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