A state agency is launching a five-year study on the effect frac sand mines in western Chippewa County have on groundwater.

"This is the first study that I'm aware of that is looking at (frac sand mine) impacts to water on a quasi-regional scale. It tries to cover a lot of bases," said Mike Parsen, hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey on Wednesday.

The contract to start the study was signed last week, Parsen said.

"Chippewa County has been very proactive early on saying, 'We want to look into this,'" Parsen said.

Preliminary field work will begin this fall, with the first report to the public in the first quarter of 2013, and annual reports after that. Parsen said it's important to build public outreach and education into the project.

He said the study will look at what is the result of pumping water at sand mine sites, and also what happens to the groundwater where there are changes to an area's topography and landscaping.

"We just want a better understanding about how mining and agriculture and other related activities affect or don't affect groundwater out in that area," said Seth Ebel, project engineer for the Chippewa County Department of Land Conservation and Forest Management.

With nine either existing or proposed frac sand mines, western Chippewa County is a fertile ground for a study, which is estimated to cost $500,000. Of that, the county will pay $344,723 and the U.S. Geological Survey $88,600.

The county's portion of paying for the study is staggered over the five years.

"The U.S. Geological Society is actively pursing additional funding on a federal level," Parsen said.

Patricia Popple, a longtime critic of frac sand mining, hailed the study and the work of the Land Conservation Department in securing it.

"It's vitally important to Chippewa County," she said.

"This is the kind of science we need to have to determine the impact of frac sand mining on our water supply," she said, adding water is the area's jewel.

"The good science approaches on this are crucial," she said.

Paul Juckem, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said the study will track how water processes at sand mining operations affect streams and water levels.

The study will do that by taking information compiled at the mining operations and entering that into a computer model.

Mining companies participating in the study include: Superior Silica Sand, Preferred Sands of Minnesota, Chippewa Sand Company, EOG Resources and Taylor Creek Transit.

Also participating are the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Trout Unlimited and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Parsen said members of the public, mining companies, the Farmers Union, Trout Unlimited and DNR will make up a "stakeholders group," that will monitor the study.

Editor's note: The wrong term was used in the initial article to describe the group that will monitor the study. It is the stakeholders group.

(11) comments


Glad to see a study on the effect of the sand mines on the water supply, but what happens if the findings indicate the sand mines are harmful to the water supply/condition? Also, this is a five year study and the mines will operate from 10 to 40+ yrs, which may result in unforeseeable damages to the ecosystem.

I'll briefly come out of retirement for this one.

You raise a great question, I don't have the answear for. I will assume you will see a rash of restrictions and even stopages quickly implemented.

I will assume after the 5 year study, there will be aditional studys. One thing I have learned is that there is a ton of money out there for "studys" like this. I'm actually supprised to see it take so long for this to pop up.

Question for those opposed, What if the study proves NO harm done?


Hey Don, guess I wouldn't be surprised if after 5 yrs, additional studies will need to be performed in order to come to a conclusive decision whether or not the sand mines have an impact on groundwater.

Even though the mines may have 10-40 yr contracts, there may likely be an alternative to frac sand or an alternative drilling method that will make the mines obsolete after 5-10 yrs.

Let's hope the results are accurate and not skewed by either side.

I would not be supprised to see technology lead to making these methods obsolete in 10-20 years leaving over have the contract unnecessary.

I'm not an expert by no means, but I do know that we have some of the best aggregates in the country. Just because we retrieve them doesn't mean we are evil for doing so. Unfortunatly, some believe we are. But then again, they still drive their SUV's.


Don, "Question for those opposed, What if the study proves NO harm done?"

I would be very happy if the study proves that the mines do not have a negative impact on groundwater. I do not want contamination just to say "I told you so."

I also have concerns as to whether the mines will have a negative impact on groundwater 10, 20, or 40 yrs out even if the 5 yr study shows no impact presently or based off its projections.


What do you expect them to find? There has been sand and gravel excavation at this level and greater throughout the USA for over a hundred years, with much better protections now. It's great to see the sand companies working right with the Geological Survey and state/county agencies. These people combined are experts, the no nothing rabble deals only in the myths they themselves fabricate. If you've been to town or county meetings you've seen them embarrass themselves countless times.


Some things I suspect would be studied: Leeching of Flocculants. And because the sand rock was crushed, washed, and clay/fines separated, whitch could "free" bound atoms/molecules of substances such as Arsenic.These fines/clay are then returned to the mine ... likely much closer to the aquifer... Recall the plan is to mine to near or at 5 feet from (above) the aquifer.
Not just arsenic but many heavy metals occur naturally in the rocks. including radioactive elements, Uranium, Radon, Etc.


As long as they are doing this worthless study let’s try another. Let’s study the correlation between the Democrats’ policy of restricting and stopping new business on the unemployment rate. For a half million I think I can figure it out for you in five years, give me more and I’ll get back to you tomorrow with the results!


Steve, why do you believe this to be a worthless study? I for one would be comforted to know concretely that there is not any negative impacts to groundwater from the sand mines. And alternately, if there is a negative impact, the effects can be minimal and stopped before severe damage occurs.


So Steve, if they find out that because of the mine pollutants are seeping into the groundwater, is it still worthless in your mind? You don't mind drinking a little poison, as long as someone in the county gets a minimum wage job outta the deal?

Interested Party

There are very few people totally opposed to the mines; most people are like me. I support the sand mines but also want to make sure my well won't run dry or be contaminated and no other long term problems will be created by the mines. The promise of jobs is overblown. The Ladysmith mine was supposed to provide hundreds of jobs for 30 years and it lasted about 5 years and never did provide the jobs promised. I predict these mines will be closing down in 10 years, if that long.

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