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Elko New Market and Area Residents Still Say “NO” to Niagara

An update on efforts to stop Niagara. By Veda Kanitz

The city of Elko New Market is rushing through plans for California-based Niagara Bottling to build a factory in my township, with the intent to sell 310 million gallons each year of groundwater, all in single use plastic bottles. Like many residents here, I have many questions and concerns about this project.

Is this really what we want our community to be known for?  “Elko New Market, The plastic water bottling capital of Minnesota.” 

Will our private well be impacted by the drawdown from the city’s well? Will we run out of water for other uses? The headwaters of the Vermillion river are within walking distance of my house. How will this increased water use affect the river? Why are we allowing more plastic bottles to fill our landfills and clog our oceans? The 20 properties adjacent to the site are concerned about the noise, lights, and traffic from 110 diesel trucks per day, and the loss of value to their property ($40K per each residential lot) when their quiet neighborhood becomes an industrial park. 

Niagara, with a net worth of $28 billion and annual revenue of $2.3 billion could have asked the DNR for a permit to dig a well and mine the groundwater themselves, instead they plan to buy the water from the city, at a discounted industrial rate. The city annexed and acquired a 118 acre I35 Industrial Park, from the township and spent $3 million bringing in city sewer and water to the site and is anxious to benefit from its investment. But will this project bring a good return on its investment?  Residents who already pay higher than normal fees for water fear it will not. The city’s updated water plan includes an additional well by 2024 and an additional water storage tower by 2025 to meet the expected water demand from Niagara and future growth. The city will spend many millions to meet the increased water demand years before future growth would require it because of a single user, Niagara. The council voted at their June 8th meeting to waive the water and sewer hook up fees for Niagara, (SAC $139.582 and WAC $2,945,163) and have written in their significant user agreement that Niagara will not pay for any infrastructure required to meet future water demands. 

The DNR ruled that an aquifer test is required before the city can get its use appropriation increase. A well designed test is the only way to know if taking large amounts of water out of the Prairie du Chien Jordan aquifer will impact neighboring wells and surface waters.

Even if the test shows no immediate issues with the increased use of groundwater, a 2016 Met Council study shows the south metro is going to face water shortages by 2040.  We must conserve and protect our groundwater resources for future generations. A regional approach to managing this resource is needed or our wells will run dry and rare surface features such as calcareous fens and trout streams will be lost.