Saturday, July 07, 2001

Lebanon may tap Ohio River

City may buy water from Cincinnati

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As residents and businesses have moved ever farther from downtown Cincinnati, the Ohio River has followed them. The river's path hasn't changed, of course, but water from it is increasingly being pulled out, purified and pumped north and south.

        Aquifers and other water sources in Warren County and Northern Kentucky just aren't large enough to keep new residents' glasses filled, lawns sprinkled and factories running in the coming years, officials in those areas say.

        The latest community considering buying water from Cincinnati Water Works (CWW) is Lebanon, about 24 miles from CWW's California, Ohio, plant.It would be Cincinnati's farthest reach so far.

        “We already know we don't have any more groundwater,” Lebanon Councilman Mark Flick said in a recent meeting on the city's options. “That is not a solution.”

        Another possibility would be to connect to Caesar Creek Reservoir in northeast Warren County, but Lebanon would have to move and treat the water itself. With CWW, Cincinnati would do most of the work, piping up water that's ready to be used.

        Firm costs are not available, Lebanon Service Director Pat Clements said, but the CWW option would likely mean up to $6.5 million in construction costs.

        Neighboring Mason, too, considered connecting to Caesar Creek, but rejected the idea as too much expense for too little water.

        Lebanon's water system is at 90 percent of capacity, according to a water supply survey that's still under way. Officials hope to buy some time with potential well sites that are being tested.

        The problem for both Lebanon and Mason is that they are between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers.

        There's a water source under central Warren County — the Shaker Creek Aquifer — but rainwater alone can't replenish it fast enough to keep up with growth in Ohio's second-fastest-growing county. The water level in the aquifer — an underground formation of sand, gravel and rock — fell 12 feet from 1994 to 2000.

        After some private wells in nearby Turtlecreek Township went dry in 1999, Mason struck a deal to buy up to 5 million gallons a day from Cincinnati. That enabled the city to drop its aquifer take from 4.35 million gallons a day to 1.9 million.

        Even so, the aquifer won't bounce right back, Turtlecreek Township resident Bob Buffenbarger said.

        “It took them 10 years to pull it down, and it'll take a while to build it back up,” he said.

        In the meantime, Mason plans to continue increasing its reliance on Cincinnati water. Since it started flowing to the southern half of Mason, consumer complaints about “red” water there have dropped dramatically.

        The difference is clear, said Nancy Grow, a mother of three whose family recently moved from north Mason to south. Red water — caused by rust when the system is strained — occurred perhaps once a month at their old house, Ms. Grow said.

        “I didn't want to wash clothes, and I certainly wouldn't ever drink it,” she said.

        Red water is no longer a problem now that the family gets Cincinnati water. CWW is the only utility in the country that uses carbon filtration for all its water, Director David Rager said. The process takes out most of the contaminants, significantly reducing the amount of cleansing chemicals that must be added, he said.

        Cincinnati has long served most Hamilton County communities. It also supplies about 25 percent of the water for Warren County's system and sells water to small areas of Butler and Clermont counties.

        In 2003, the utility will begin selling water on the other side of the Ohio River for the first time. Crews are preparing to lay a 3 1/2-foot-diameter pipe 30 feet below the bottom of the river later this month, Mr. Rager said.

        The connection to serve Florence and Boone County — the fastest-growing county in Kentucky — is costing the three parties a total of $57 million, he said. That's half as expensive as if the communities built their own plant.

        Cincinnati's next expansion? That's up to local communities, Mr. Rager said. CWW's California and Butler County plants combined can purify 296 million gallons of water a day — more than twice the average daily use.

        The supply, he added, is virtually unlimited. Cincinnati's withdrawal from the Ohio is about 100th of 1 percent of its daily flow.

        “If you go out and watch, the river doesn't drop when it goes past our intake,” Mr. Rager said.


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