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Hyundai EV plant needs lots of water. Some fear plans to drill wells

Drew Kann, Zachary Hansen, Adam Van Brimmer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Automotive News

SOUTH BULLOCH COUNTY, Georgia — On nearly 3,000 acres 20 miles west of Savannah, Hyundai Motor Group is racing to finish its “Metaplant” electric vehicle factory by early 2025, if not sooner.

The plant — Georgia’s largest economic development project, which Hyundai has promised will employ 8,500 — has already begun to transform a rural stretch of Interstate 16 between Statesboro and Savannah into an industrial corridor lined with parts suppliers and warehouses. But the hulking factory will require enormous amounts of water, and state and local leaders’ plan to quench its thirst by pumping from the underlying aquifer has sparked fear in surrounding counties.

The Metaplant’s water supply, at least for now, will not come from Bryan County, where the factory is located. Nor will it come from Savannah. Instead, to get around pumping restrictions that have been in place to limit saltwater intrusion in the aquifer, groundwater will be pumped from four wells drilled just north of the plant in Bulloch County.

Farmers like Ray Davis, who grows cotton and peanuts on land about 2 miles from some of the proposed well sites, worry the plans could compromise his water supply or lead to crop failures.

The four wells could be allowed to suck a combined 6.65 million gallons a day from the Floridan Aquifer — the massive, underground reservoir beneath South Georgia, Florida and parts of surrounding states. Even more water might be pulled later to support new development and a Bulloch-owned water and sewer system in the southern part of the county.

Davis, a sixth-generation farmer, relies on the same aquifer to irrigate his fields. If the water table drops, Davis says a local well driller estimated it could cost him $30,000 apiece to lower the pumps in two of his wells. If larger engines are needed, his tab could rise to around $100,000 per well, not to mention the increased fuel and electricity to pull water from farther below ground.

 

“These wells are gonna cost me money, even if they don’t hurt my crops or my cost of production,” he said.

No permits have been issued yet by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), and the agency, county officials and the regional economic development authority have floated safeguards to protect affected farmers and homeowners.

Still, the issue has spawned significant local opposition.

David Bennett, an Army veteran and flight nurse, is challenging the incumbent Bulloch Commission Chairman Roy Thompson in May’s Republican primary. Bennett also fears for his home’s water supply. He’s called for a drilling moratorium and a referendum to give voters a say.

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