Water co-op could be way of the future

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MACON & SANGAMON COUNTIES — Firefighters ran out of water fighting a downtown fire. Latham’s water tower couldn’t keep up with the demand needed. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

It’s one of the reasons Latham is considering a water co-op. It would provide water for nearly 9,000 people across Sangamon and Macon counties.

Issues with water treatment plants are not only a safety concern, but also draining many small towns budgets. 

From rusted water tanks to corroded pipes, many water treatment plants in small communities are on their last legs.

“We have aging water plant, we have aging infrastructure, we have an aging storage tank just so many things that need to be done.” 

Some plants date back to the 40’s and many are in need of hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

One of the town’s operators says corrosion is taking over his plant. He says pipes are rusting away and it won’t be a cheap fix when they finally give out. It’s a problem board members, like Evelyn Deverell, are hearing about frequently.  

“Just to bring our storage tank to standards would be $190,000.” 

But a regional co-op could be the answer to solving it all.

“Partnering with other communities is a very viable source that not too many people are thinking of.” 

Nine communities in Macon and Sangamon counties are considering being a part of it. It would mean one water treatment plant for everyone to use.

“I just think it’s the way of the future. People don’t make their own electricity. You don’t make, you don’t produce your own gas. You don’t have your own telephone system. Most places don’t. Regionalization just seems to be the way the future is going. The co-op would be able to supply water to villages at less cost than we can currently produce our own water.” 

Illiopolis just happens to be one of the towns weighing the option. Board member Myron Oesch knows it could be the perfect place to put the plant.

“One of our biggest assets, one of ours is our water supply and we have wells located in an area that can provide lots of water.”

The wells are leftover from the Formosa Chemical Plant. It blew up in 2004. The plant is gone, but these wells sit by the river, five miles from the plant site.

“They were a big user of water, over a million gallons a day and, right now, and ours usually roughly a million dollars a month for our residents.” 

The co-op plans to use them for the treatment facility. Lee Beckman is with Milano and Grunloh Egineering and would design the future plans.

“The water plant would pump the water to Illiopolis and to Mt. Auburn. Mt. Auburn’s tower would supply, with pressure from Illiopolis, it would probably be pumped to Niantic and Harristown and then north to Mt. Pulaski then Latham, Elkart, and Broadwell.” 

The project is still in the discussion phase but board members, like Evelyn Deverell, of Harristown, say the clock is ticking and options are limited.

“Right now, it’s down to three things: permanently going on Decatur water, building our own new plant and well or going with the regional co-op.” 

Leaders say it makes sense and, if it gets the green light, it could save each town thousands of dollars. 

“United Regional Water is more of a decision for the trustees of the communities, grandkids and if they want to go and refurbish their plants today they’re putting a band aid on it for tomorrow.” 

Each town is hosting a community meeting about the co-op. Some of them have already taken place.

These towns are considering the co-op: Mt. Auburn; Broadwell; Latham; Harristown; Illiopolis; Mount Pulaski; Elkhart and Niantic.

In Illinois, there are more water utilities than there are electric utilities nationwide. 

EJ Water owns and operates two regional water co-ops. They’re based out of Dieterich, in Effingham County. Their ground plant is the same design as the one being proposed in Macon and Sangamon counties.

The other is a surface plant. EJ Water has over 3,000 miles of water main, and serves over 10,000 members. It also won an award for “Best Tasting Water in Illinois” twice in the last 6 years. 

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