Farmers concerned water from ethanol plant pumps will hurt crops

South Bend city leaders' attempt to alleviate flooding issues in the Rum Village neighborhood is causing a ripple of concerns for farmers with land downstream from that neighborhood.

Last week South Bend city leaders asked the owners of the bankrupt New Energy ethanol plant to turn a pump back on that will divert more than four million gallons of water a day from the old plant and Calvert Street neighborhood. The hope is that this will help residents who are currently experiencing flooding in their basements and dealing with mold and mildew as a result.

The water being pumped out of the ground is clean groundwater, so it's not going into the sewers. Instead it's being discharged into the Kankakee ditch, which winds through farmland.

Farmers are concerned this might lead to flooding on farmland on either side of the ditch, which could end up hurting their crops and eventually, their livelihood.

"I can definitely see why those fellows in that high water table farming area would definitely be concerned by this," said Tom Schlarb, a member of the St. Joseph County Drainage Board.

Schlarb has been a farmer for more than 50 years.

"They're tiled and they're drained to handle what volume of water they have now and here comes this additional volume of water instantly. It's a discharge, so it's not a saturation," said Schlarb.

South Bend engineers, however, say farmers have nothing to worry about.

"What's going on to the ditch from the New Energy plant is just a small percentage of the capacity of the ditch," said Michael Mecham, an engineer for the city.

The farmers who own land downstream from the plant will meet with city leaders next week to find out how a higher water level in the Kankakee ditch might affect them.

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