Akron's proposal would tap into Portage County resources

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

From its facility off Lake Rockwell in Franklin Township, the city of Akron pipes water out of the lake, treats it, and sends it to about 300,000 people in Akron and surrounding communities, who use about 42-million gallons of water a day.

Akron would like to make it 47 million.

The city of Akron has agreements to provide water to Coventry, Springfield and Copley townships in Summit County as part of a Joint Economic Development District. If the plan to divert the Cuyahoga is approved by Michigan Gov. John Engler, it would be the first time Akron provides water to communities through such a pact.

But it would not be the first time Akron provides water outside its borders. The city provides water to a number of surrounding communities, charging outsiders 22-percent more than city residents.

Some local residents have criticized Akron for engaging in the water business at the expense of Portage County.

"Why should Portage County taxpayers pay for the tax exemptions of Akron?" said Caroline Arnold, a member of the Kent Environmental Council. "Why should Akron be able to take our water and sell it?"

But Akron says it's doing the right thing by providing water to communities that need it, and says it must always balance those needs with the need to leave enough water for communities downstream.

"They say, 'Instead of our rate payers paying, let's let Akron pay,' " said Akron Service Director Joe Kidder. "I see that as unfair."

Akron's water business

Akron provides water to Stow, Tallmadge, Mogadore, Fairlawn and parts of Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls, Twinsburg, Copley, Bath, Coventry, Richfield and Twinsburg townships.

All of the water comes from Lake Rockwell, a large reservoir that lies in Franklin Township and Streetsboro. When the water level in Rockwell gets too low, Akron releases water from its two other reservoirs, East Branch and LaDue, both in Geauga County.

The water flows through underground pipes to the water plant, where it is treated with chemicals, mixed and allowed to sit so larger particles can settle to the bottom. Then it goes through filters to remove remaining particles and is mixed with chlorine, fluoride and caustic soda to make the water less corrosive.

From there, it goes through more than 1,000 miles of mains to be piped to Akron and other communities.

Akron didn't need the approval of governors of the Great Lakes states to provide water to towns outside its borders. The only reason it needs it now is because of something called the Great Lakes Charter.

Of watersheds and JEDDs

The East-West Continental Divide is the line that determines where a drop of water that falls ends up. The line divides Portage County, going through the center of Ravenna.

A drop of water that falls on the west side of Ravenna ends up in the Cuyahoga River, which ends up in the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean. A drop of water that falls on the east side of Ravenna ends up in the Mahoning River, eventually flowing to the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, explained Edith Chase, a member of the KEC.

In 1986, western states experienced a drought and began eying the Great Lakes as a source of water, Chase said. Adjacent states drafted the Great Lakes Charter, which requires the approval of all eight governors to divert water out of the Great Lakes basin.

Akron already provides water to communities outside the Great Lakes basin, including parts of Akron and Fairlawn _ agreements that existed before the Great Lakes Charter was enacted.

In 1993, Akron established JEDD agreements with Copley, Springfield and Coventry, townships which lie mostly in the Ohio River basin. The agreements allow Akron to extend water and sewer lines to those who request it, in return for a share of city income tax shared by the city and townships.

Coventry Trustee Val Sawhill said there are many residents in his township who would love to have city water while remaining township residents, something a JEDD was supposed to provide.

He described a couple in their 80s who were surrounded by Akron water and whose only wish was to have water from the line in front of their house in their tap.

"They kept saying 'Sometime before we die, we hope we can get a decent glass of water,'" he said.

Because the couple lives adjacent to Akron and already had a water line in front of their home, they were allowed to tap in to Akron water. But others are waiting for the diversion to go through before they too can have Akron water in their homes.

To Sawhill, the objections Kent, Green and Barberton have are "red herrings." Green and Barberton, he contended, would annex the properties in Coventry if they could, while Kent and its neighbors want more water in the Cuyahoga River.

"These neighboring communities have seized on a bogus issue to get the things they want," he said.

Environmental opposition

Barberton and Green have criticized the diversion. Green commissioned a report by Davey Resources in Kent to study the environmental impact of the diversion.

The report questioned the quality of water in the Portage Lakes, which would be returned to the Cuyahoga River through a lease with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. It also maintains Akron and the ODNR overlooked available groundwater in Summit County.

Similar concerns were echoed by Chase and other members of the Kent Environmental Council.

Chase said EPA has stated in public meetings that parts of the Portage Lakes have high levels of chemicals, including PCB's, which have been linked to cancer. Last year, residents were advised not to eat carp and catfish from the river as those are fish that eat from the bottom of the river, where PCB's settle.

She also said Akron could build a water treatment plant in Summit County, using water from the Upper Tuscarawas Aquifer. She acknowledged the aquifer is contaminated in spots, but said if it's dirty, it should be cleaned up anyway.

KEC is not necessarily opposed to the diversion, but believes decisions should be postponed until water quality issues can be addressed, Chase said.

She also pushed for a water conservation plan stronger than the one Akron is proposing, which would call for a change in Akron's rate structure. Customers now pay less per gallon of water if they use more of it, a policy she said encourages overuse.

But Kidder said it is unfair to ask Akron's rate payers to conserve water they purchased the rights to.

"It's their water system," he said. "They paid for it. Why should outsiders tell them what to do with it? What's fair about that?"

Tomorrow: What lawyers and lawmakers are doing to make sure Portage County's interests are protected.

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