County, city running dry

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2006

Geological studies conducted of the sand aquifer beneath Butler County indicates Greenville and the county could be facing a drastic water shortage in the very near future, according to Malloy Chandler, a consultant for the Butler County Water Authority.

Chandler said the fact that Butler County is using more water than is renewable from this aquifer - an underground layer of sand from which groundwater can be pumped through one of the numerous wells located in the county - is not a revelation. An initial study was conducted 15 years ago that emphasized the need for the county to find an alternative source for water, he said.

Chandler said the majority of the wells in Butler County are dropping two to three feet annually.

&#8220For example, Well No. 3 in Halso Mill is 17 years old,” he said. &#8220We recently renovated that well and it's pumping the same amount of water that it always has - around 650 gallons per minute. But in 15 years the water has gone from being 70 feet over the pump to just 30 feet over the pump.”

Chandler said county and city of Greenville officials formed the Butler County Water Supply District with the blessings of the water authority in order to seek and find alternative sources of water for the county.

But Rural Electric Members Action Committee (REMAC) President Margaret Pierce, in a released statement, called the water supply district an &#8220a cleverly devised plan that is using water shortage scare tactics to prey on the emotions of Butler County citizens and to gain favor from the public.”

&#8220While future water shortage and the need to look for new supplies are certainly matters for serious concern, those who are involved in the organization of this new water board lead me, and many others, to believe that the ultimate aim is to create a monopoly for the supply of water to the citizens of Butler County,” said Pierce.

Chandler refuted Pierce's claims.

&#8220The Butler County Water Supply District is a not-for-profit organization with the sole purpose of finding a new supply of water and bringing it back to the city and county,” said Chandler. &#8220Both the Butler County Water Authority and the water supply district should be commended for attempting to fix a problem before it comes.”

But before the future water shortage can addressed, there's the matter of Pioneer Electric's proposal to purchase and operate the county's water system. Pioneer Electric - which has been the operating contractor for the county's water system since 1970 - made an offer to buy the water system at the water authority's last meeting and Pioneer General Manager Steve Harmon will present the cooperative's proposal to the water authority on Monday morning. Pioneer Electric did not bid on the operating contract this year.

Chandler said only one company - Artesian Wells - has bid on the operating contract, giving the BCWA the option of choosing to sell outright to Pioneer Electric or granting the bid to Artesian Wells. He did not say how he would advise water authority members to vote on Monday.

&#8220The only other option would be for the water authority to operate it themselves,” he said. &#8220That would be difficult and cost-prohibitive.”

Pierce said it would be in the best interest of the citizens of Butler County if Pioneer Electric remained as operator of the water system.

&#8220Everything is in place - equipment, employees, know-how, billing, meter reading - for Pioneer Electric to continue providing the customers with outstanding service. If the BCWA's board rejects this outstanding offer by Pioneer Electric in favor of an unknown and inexperienced entity, then it's obvious that this board is not looking at what is best for the future of this system.”

The Butler County Water Authority's board meeting on Monday will be held at 9:30 a.m. at the Whitney Bank conference room in Greenville.