By Tim Cox
Celina and Mercer County officials plan to discuss the possibility of creating a central water district that presumably would serve the city of Celina and the surrounding population center.
No talks have been scheduled but both sides have expressed interest in talking about the issue.
Discussion on a regional water system likely will focus on test wells the county drilled east of Celina a few years ago. The wells have been mentioned frequently by Celina residents and city officials as the city searches for a long-term solution to its water quality problems. County officials, meanwhile, are under political pressure to build their own plant in the East Jefferson water district using the test wells as a groundwater source.
Some city officials in recent meetings have questioned the viability of the county wells to serve a large population. They are ready now, however, to revisit the issue that has been brought up from time to time in the past.
A central water district conceivably would be run by a separate water authority, not the city or county governments. The East Jefferson water district owns its own water infrastructure but gets water from the city with a surcharge added to their bills. Celina City Council member Ed Jeffries brought the issue up at Monday's city council meeting. Jeffries said he believed the county eventually would build its own plant, so city officials should at least look at some type of combined effort. If the city lost the East Jefferson customers, it would spell a major financial hit to the water fund at a time when customers already are facing likely rate increases to pay for millions of dollars in necessary treatment upgrades and physical renovations at the water plant.
The East Jefferson water district accounts for about 250,000 gallons of the city's daily average of 1.3 million gallons of water produced.
Kent Bryan, the city's community development consultant, said city and county officials have tentative plans to meet in the coming weeks. The group will look at what is in the best interest of the entire community, he said.
Ironically, the test wells located on land owned by Jonny Dicke were drilled at the city's behest a few years ago when city administration officials asked county officials to seek a potential alternative water source.
Eastern Jefferson Township residents might already have their own water system if not for the speculation that has swirled for the past couple of years regarding the potential development of an ethanol plant in the area, Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin said this morning. Because of an ethanol plant's potentially huge demand for water, county officials have held off on moving forward with a water plant, he said.
Many East Jefferson water district residents favor having their own plant because they have no current political representation, Laffin said. Residents pay water rate increases and would help pay for planned improvements to the city treatment system, but are not represented by city council members, he said.
"They want us to put in a plant," Laffin said.
"Our goal is simply to get good water to the people and repair the infrastructure," Commissioner Jim Zehringer said.
During recent meetings on Celina's water problems, some city officials have dismissed the county wells as not being a viable option. Concerns include questions about whether the wells can produce enough water to serve the city's needs and their location in a future industrial area, close to a railroad line.
There also are concerns about the geographic limitations for drilling future wells in the same area. A heavily regulated continental divide lies just to the north of the well site and Grand Lake is less than a mile to the south.
"I'm leery of their proposal because of the limited geographic area," Bryan told council members Monday, but added that he plans to "go into the group meeting as open-minded as possible."
Commissioners and Kent Hinton, the county's sanitary sewer manager, this morning said they are confident in viability of the test well site.
"The potential is there for a tremendous amount of water," Hinton said, noting that engineers in the past have said one of the wells could produce 4 million gallons daily with a larger well casing and some underground blasting to fracture the rock.
"They say they're leery, but have they sat down and looked at the numbers and the reports?" Laffin said.