Study: Site for Missouri American Water reservoir in Newton County is unsuitable

JOPLIN, Mo. – In 2019 Missouri American Water announced plans for a new reservoir in Newton County, now, an independent study says it won’t work.

Tom Aley is the President of the Ozark Underground Laboratory based in Taney County. He’s also the senior hyrdogeologist with the firm and has been doing studies like this for more than 50 years. He was hired by a private resident who’s property is part of the future reservoir. Aley says the site proposed by Missouri American Water, is unsuitable. “Where they propose to put the dam would be on top of a segment of the stream that goes dry every summer, the basin is 15.7 square miles, it should have a nice stream flowing through it year-round if it didn’t leak.”

Leakage from the site is Aley’s biggest concern. “One of the big problems with leakage in cave areas is you can’t find the localized holes through which all the water runs and our flow rate measurements demonstrate there are many such holes.”

Aley says MAW would be best not to proceed with the reservoir. “My concern is this will be…very disastrous for the long-term water supply of Joplin, the problem is, if you put money into something that doesn’t work, you lose all your money on that project and you still have to develop a water supply that will supply Joplin into the future.”

Matt Barnhart with Missouri American water says they’ve reviewed Aley’s study. “We definitely read the report, you know, front to back and inside and out, that’s what responsible scientists do, and in that, we’ve also taken the time to expand those items.”

That in turn has led them to get with their own teams and have them review the data and conduct additional research into the site. “We haven’t seen anything that would stop the reservoir, we have seen things that will cost extra, additional monies to fix and rectify.”

Barnhart says getting it right is key. “This is a significant investment made into the future for the Joplin and Joplin area and it has to be done right, there’s not a second chance.”

Then there’s the reason for the reservoir. It would add capacity for American Water’s supply for the Joplin area, which is key, due to a drought the area experienced in 1954. According to climatological records from the National Weather Service in Springfield, Joplin was upwards of 20 inches below average for rain that summer, set record highs nearly daily for 3 months, and in that time, only received three inches of rain.

It’s that possibility of another drought in the future, that has Barnhart concerned. “If we have the drought of 1954, we would have weeks that we would not be able to produce water.”

The current expected cost of the reservoir is around $300 million, but that could change, depending on what site issues need to be addressed.