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May 14, 2013

Chobani's thirst for water grows

The rapidly expanding Chobani yogurt factory in the town of Columbus is asking environmental regulators to allow it to withdraw hundreds of thousands of more gallons of groundwater than it already takes with its network of wells.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. May 23 to take public comments on Chobani’s application to withdraw up to 1.3 million gallons of water per day from local aquifers. The hearing will take place at the SRBC office in Harrisburg, Pa.

If the SRBC issues the approval, Chobani could begin taking that much water immediately, said commission spokeswoman Susan Obleski.

The agency is reviewing Chobani-commissioned hydrology studies examining the impacts on the aquifer from Chobani’s water usage. The company has already self-reported that on average it uses 900,000 gallons of aquifer water per day, Obleski said.

She said Chobani is also seeking approval to increase its maximum daily consumptive use of water to 283,000 gallons per day from its three wells. She said the consumptive water use is related to evaporative losses from the cooling systems used in plant production of the Chobani yogurt.

Chobani’s current maximum daily consumptive use of water is 130,000 gallons per day, Obleski said.

The current water withdrawal application is important to Chobani’s growth as one of the region’s largest employers because the yogurt manufacturing, packaging and shipping processes require significant amounts of water for cleaning and for cooling systems.

The application is the first time that Chobani’s usage of water will have undergone a full SRBC review of its water uptake. The SRBC is expected to act on the application June 20, Obleski said.

Chobani, whose products first hit store shelves in 2007 and then rapidly evolved into the nation’s best selling yogurt brand, had been withdrawing water without a permit until it advised the SRBC in August 2011 about its water usage.

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