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Aquaculture center to tap local springs

June 26, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

LEETOWN, W.Va. - Gene Starliper of Leetown said he knows the planned National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture will use a lot of water, but he's not worried about his well.

"The good Lord has pretty well supplied us with water," Starliper said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials met with about 25 Leetown residents Thursday night to discuss plans for the new center.

Leetown residents were more curious about how the center would impact their wells and what the building would look like than the genetic research on fish and other experiments that will take place there.

The center will be near the Leetown Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey facility.

Several residents asked if the center would use so much water that it would lower the groundwater table that supplies their wells.

John A. Crew, area administrative officer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, said existing springs will provide enough water for the center's needs. The water from the springs flows into a stream, he said.

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The center will use about 1,000 gallons per minute, but will have a water recycler to use in times of drought, dropping the center's needs to about 200 gallons per minute, Crew said. The springs produce about 2,600 gallons per minute of water that is not used.

One of the reasons the site was chosen was the abundant water supply, Crew said. The water will be treated before being piped back into the Hopewell Stream, he said.

Crew said natural field stone will be used to build the one-story building so it will blend in with the existing structures at the Leetown campus. A barn-like structure will also be built of field stone and metal resembling board construction.

Construction is expected to begin in the early spring next year and take 12 to 18 months, Crew said.

Twelve senior scientists and 44 support staff will work at the center, he said.

They will study ways to produce healthier, better-tasting, farm-raised rainbow trout and other fish through research and experimentation, said Wilda Martinez, area director for the Agricultural Research Service.

Agriculture officials believe the research can lead to more profitable aquaculture farming by small farmers in the Appalachian region. Ten years ago, catfish farming was relatively new. Now catfish, a warm-water fish, is widely found on restaurant menus and in supermarkets and is the second-largest cash crop for Mississippi, Crew said.

"We're looking forward to some good and important breakthroughs, particularly for small-scale aquaculture," Crew said.

Jane Tabb, who lives on a Leetown farm, said she knows of a few aquaculture farmers in Jefferson County who are just breaking even. She said she was at the meeting out of curiosity and her family does not plan to get into aquaculture farming.

"With more research and more experimentation, they'll come up with better ways to do it," Tabb said.

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