Earlier this month, Ravenna joined Portage County in the sale of treated water to the Rootstown Water Service Company, furnishing some 36 million gallons annually to the company that distributes throughout Rootstown the water it purchases.
While Jones praised the contract as "historic," Portage County Commissioner Kathleen Chandler was less enthusiastic, contending the contract should have provisions ensuring cut and dry liability in the unlikely event that Rootstown Water Service Company water become unsafe to drink.
"In the past, the city or the county have been exclusive providers to Rootstown," the commissioner said Sept. 2. "There was never any doubt as to who would be responsible were water contaminated."
Chandler's concern arises from the prospect of a "mingling zone" inside a water line running parallel to S.R. 44. Located near the Rootstown-Ravenna Township border, this zone is a junction where county water being pumped from its Brimfield plant mingles with Ravenna water from the north, according to Harold Huff, director of the Portage County Water Resources Department.
The zone stretches roughly one mile, but its length is subject to considerable variance due to continuous changes in water line pressure, Huff said.
In addition to the contamination concern, there is concern that water quality may vary. In a letter to the Rootstown Water Service Company, the Ohio EPA requested that the company create two "service zones" that would ensure "consistent water characteristics "_ that is, consistency of hardness, taste and iron content _ for the company's consumers. The letter does not address the contamination issue.
"Consider the unlikely but possible event where water was contaminated," Huff said. "Obviously, you need to pinpoint the source of the problem immediately. Time is of the essence. But its much more difficult to isolate the problem if there are blended water sources. And you know what will happen ... Ravenna will say 'there's no problem with our water.' And the county will say the same thing. "
Though Huff said that blended water systems are "highly unusual," Rootstown Water Service Company President William Pletzer said they are quite common, siting Cleveland and Columbus as examples.
"Every week in this country, some kind of contamination occurs," Huff said, adding that bacterial invasions can result when water lines are aged, during water line repairs or due to punctures in lines.
Huff echoed the issue raised by the OEPA. Ravenna sells surface water and county sells ground water. These two sources have distinct characteristics, Huff said. Surface water is softer than well water and has an inherently different taste due to algae blooms. As a result, consumers might notice variation in the taste of their water, he said.
Ravenna Utility Director Carl Ganocy, however, has said that the Delphi Packard Electric plant (formerly the Flintcote plant) of Prospect Street will consume for industrial use the majority of the water Ravenna contributes. The plant uses about 100,000 gallons of water per day, a volume roughly equal to that the city furnishes daily.
"If there were any kind of problem with contamination, the city of Ravenna would do everything in its power to resolve that matter quickly and efficiently," Jones said.
Huff said the issue could be resolved simply by closing a line valve in the vicinity of the zone where the waters mingle, a procedure that he said would demarcate the two suppliers. Pletzer, however, has said his company has no plans to do so unless it is advised by an engineer or mandated by the OEPA. He said he has heard no complaints regarding variation in water taste.
The county has gone on record recommending the company close the valve. Ravenna has not. "It's not my place to make that recommendation to the Rootstown Water Company," Ganocy said.
The county had supplied roughly 500,000 of water to Rootstown each day. As a result of Ravenna's contract, however, that figure will drop to about 400,000 _ a reduction that will cost the county about $51,000 annually, according to Chandler. The county has insisted that the company is under contractual obligation to purchase at least 400,000 daily
The contract will regenerate a portion of the nearly $2 million Ravenna lost each year after Rootstown Water Service Company severed a similar contract with the city in 1984, when it opted for county services.
In 1979, Ravenna was the company's sole provider. In October of that year, the city proposed a 103 percent increase in its rates, according to Huff. In 1983, the city announced another rate hike, an announcement that sent Rootstown Water Service Company scrambling for other suppliers, Huff said.
The recent reunion between the city and the company may result from the company's displeasure with county water, Jones said, citing a letter drafted in August by the company's secretary/treasurer Karen Mendiola.
"The discolored water seems to have cleared up lately but the hardness has gone up," she wrote, in reference to water supplied by the county. "We do not believe you have been forthright in telling Rootstown Water Service Company the problems. May we suggest that you re-evaluate the water quality coming out of the Brimfield Regional Water Treatment Plant ..."
The letter also asks "what are we getting for our 4 percent (PLUS) increases over the next few years. The county has implemented a 4 percent increase for each of the years 1997-2000.
Pletzer, however, said the decision to contract with Ravenna resulted from the fact that his company was consuming more than 90 percent of the Brimfield plant's total output.
"This was just a sound business decision," he said. "Wells dry up eventually. We only want to insure a consistent supply of quality water in the future for our customers."