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Cities duel over troubled waters

By Diane SmithRecord-Courier staff writer Published: July 20, 1997 12:00 AM

Akron said it needed more water to serve its customers. Kent feared granting

Akron the right to take water from the Cuyahoga River would lead to certain

doom.

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But the Supreme Court of Ohio disagreed and, in 1914, upheld an Ohio law

granting Akron the exclusive rights to water in the Cuyahoga River.

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More than 80 years later, the battle continues.

The latest disagreement is over Akron's plan to divert up to 5 million gallons

of water daily from Lake Rockwell in Franklin Township and Streetsboro,

one of Akron's main water supplies and site of one of its water treatment

plants. Lost flow would be replaced with water from Portage Lakes into two

points in the Cuyahoga River _ both downstream of Portage County.

The water would be used to supply parts of Copley, Coventry and Springfield

townships in southern Summit County as part of three joint economic development

agreements.

The Council of Great Lakes Governors, which must approve Akron's plan because

it would divert water from the Great Lakes watershed to the Ohio River watershed,

has delayed a vote on the matter.

Kent City Council has approved a resolution opposing the plan after hearing

concerns about increased wastewater treatment costs and harm to aquatic

life in the river.

The controversy has led some Portage County residents to revisit the uneasy

relationship between the two communities.

Ask Portage County politicians, farmers and long-time residents what impact

Akron Waterworks has had on the county, and they'll paint a portrait of

an overpowering entity that extracts natural resources for its own profit,

drains the Cuyahoga River, and deprives residents of the right to use land

around it for recreation.

But Akron officials contend that reputation is undeserved, saying the city

protects the environment in the river, employs local people and works well

with its neighbors.

An 83-year dispute

Akron owns property in Portage County that extends through five communities.

In addition to Lake Rockwell, Akron also owns the Mogadore Reservoir, a

sprawling lake extending through parts of Brimfield and Suffield.

The city also owns two reservoirs on the upper Cuyahoga, La Due and East

Branch, both in Geauga County.

In 1911, the Ohio legislature granted Akron the right to use water in the

Cuyahoga, Little Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers and its tributaries to supply

water to its residents.

In a 1993 Record-Courier column local historian Loris Troyer noted William

S. Kent, the third generation of the family for which the city of Kent was

named, and the Kent Courier, which he owned, predicted Akron's reservoir

would be a constant menace and that someday a bursting dam could devastate

the region.

``The people of Akron are going to wake up some day and realize they have

been made partners to one of the worst injustices ever perpetrated upon

a neighboring community,'' stated a Kent Courier editorial quoted in Troyer's

column.

But despite his fury, Kent was unable to convince the courts to stop Akron's

plan. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in Akron's favor on July 14, 1914.

And 83 years later, residents still feel the sting.

``When do we stand up as citizens and say enough is enough?'' said Portage

County Commissioner Chuck Keiper. ``I would like to challenge this agreement,

in court if necessary. I don't think the legislature had the inherent right

to take property from those who live along the river without compensation.''

Keiper said Akron Waterworks makes millions at Portage County's expense.

Sewer costs are higher. Water suppliers must drill wells because they cannot

use the abundant water supply in their own community. Akron determines what

residents can and cannot do in and around the river.

``Every day we spend more and more because of it,'' Keiper said. ``Akron

is a big city, and we've always been the farmers who got in their way. The

farmers have been getting robbed.''

``Good Neighbors''

David Crandall, manager of Akron's Public Utilities Bureau, said Akron's

negative reputation among some Portage Countians is undeserved.

``We have always prided ourselves on our ability to work with Portage County

and Geauga County as best as we can,'' he said.

To him, Akron is a community that employs Portage County residents and monitors

river quality for the benefit of everyone. He said most people don't know

Akron has a water supply on hand ready to provide emergency water to Kent

should its system ever temporarily fail.

Crandall said Akron's very presence helped Kent become the community it

is today.

``Akron would not have grown without water, and I seriously doubt Kent would

have grown as fast as it did if Akron was non-existent,'' he said.

But Troyer disputes that claim, saying it was the Cuyahoga River that drew

the first settlers, who needed water for their mills, to Kent. There were

textile mills and other mills owned by the Kent family and others, and they

so impacted the town that it was once called Franklin Mills.

Environment

The Kent Environmental Council and the Kent Environmental Commission claim

if Akron diverts more water from the Cuyahoga River, it would have an adverse

effect on aquatic life, making River Edge Park less enjoyable to use.

It could also raise the cost of treating wastewater because there would

be less river flow to dilute discharged wastewater, eventually leading to

more stringent pollution control guidelines for industry and putting the

city at a disadvantage for economic development, according to Wastewater

Treatment Plant Manager Bob Brown.

Kent is asking Akron for minimum releases from the Lake Rockwell dam, compensation

for any additional water treatment costs the city incurs due to the diversion,

testing of oxygen levels below the dam, and cooperation between the two

cities for water conservation programs.

Both cities say low flow in the river is a concern. Already, both agree,

there are periods, typically in the summer when there is less rain and Akron

residents use more water, when no water falls over the dams at Lake Rockwell

and downtown Kent.

Brown said when there is no flow over dams in the river, water beside the

dams becomes a pond or lake. The biology of the river is affected because

oxygen levels drop.

Because river flow typically drops in the summer, when rivers hold less

oxygen because water is warm, such periods can be especially detrimental

to the river's biology and water quality.

``The goal must be to maintain river flow through the entire year, not just

when it is convenient,'' Brown said.

Brown believes Akron should release more water from its upper reservoirs

to ensure there is enough water in Kent's portion of the river.

But Crandall said additional releases would have a negative impact on recreational

programs in the Upper Cuyahoga, and opening and closing gates continually

could cause wear and tear due to excessive use and leading to the risk of

a flood.

He said Akron is considering several options to increase flow in the lower

Cuyahoga, including ``flash boards,'' used to increase stored water and

a siphon to send more water over the gates.

Portage County Commissioner Chris Smeiles' suggestion to divert water from

the Mogadore Reservoir to Congress Lake and eventually to Breakneck Creek

and the Cuyahoga River is another option the city is considering, he said.

And he said Akron is just as concerned about the quality of the river as

Kent is, saying Akron has environmentally trained people on staff to monitor

water quality often.

``We work cooperatively to make sure we maintain the river,'' he said. ``We

protect that river more than people realize.''


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