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Lewis & Clark water still hasn’t begun to flow in Worthington

WORTHINGTON — Crews continue to look for the last of the leaks in the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System pipeline, and it’s still not known when the city of Worthington will begin to receive the much-anticipated water.

During a meeting of the Worthington Public Utilities Water & Light Commission Monday afternoon, WPU General Manager Scott Hain said there’s a leak in a 24-inch pipe that crews haven’t yet been able to locate. The 24-inch line begins at the Adrian meter building and continues for about five miles east of Adrian.

“As far as I know, they’ve repaired all of the other leaks,” Hain said.

The update followed a lengthy discussion on WPU’s philosophy on economic development and water usage once Lewis & Clark water begins to flow into the city. The connection will deliver 1.9 million gallons of water per day, which will be blended 50-50 with water that comes from the city’s seven wells at Lake Bella, south of Worthington.

Hain said the city’s economic development officials had been trained for years to ask prospective businesses what their water needs would be.

“Sometimes, that prevented a business from locating here,” Hain said. “Our community has really developed a water conservation culture over the years, and I really hope that doesn’t go away.”

Hain said public utilities has no contracts with customers that guarantee a specific amount of water. However, the utility has imposed varying levels of water restrictions on users when necessary.

“If you’ve got another million gallons of water per day, are you interested in 1 million gallons of water to one customer, or 100,000 gallons of water to 10 customers?” Hain asked the commission.

Gary Hoffman, chairman of the commission, said he keeps thinking about Palm Desert in California, where an aquifer that seven years ago seemed to have an endless supply of water has the potential to dry up.

At the same time, though, he said he’d like to see some aggressive marketing for businesses to locate in Worthington, particularly those that don’t use a lot of water. While the town could never support an ethanol plant, and probably not another processing plant the size of JBS — Worthington’s largest water user — businesses that use up to 200,000 gallons of water per day would be fine.

“There’s a lot of really good businesses that use little water,” Hoffman said.

WPU Water Superintendent Eric Roos said Worthington’s water customers use about 3.2 million gallons of water per day now. Lake Bella’s wellfield can produce 3 million gallons of water per day currently, and that could be pushed up to 4 million gallons, Hain said, adding he wouldn’t want to push it to that level on a consistent basis.

While the amount of water available within the city is still a concern, so too is the amount that can be handled by the municipal wastewater plant. Increasing water usage by bringing new businesses to town will also impact wastewater.

Increasing to 5 million gallons of water usage per day is unrealistic when the city’s municipal wastewater treatment plant can handle a maximum of four million gallons of water per day. Hain noted the municipal plant does not treat water from JBS, as that water is discharged to the industrial wastewater treatment plant.

Expansions of both the municipal and industrial wastewater plants will be likely in the future.

“We’re looking at 2035, at the rate we’re going now, but if you add a couple of half-million gallon users (that date would be pushed up),” Hain said. “Right now there’s adequate capacity on the wastewater side of things for 1.5 million gallons worth of growth.”

Hain said while the Lewis & Clark connection provides a great additional source of water now, he’d like to see the community maintain its overall philosophy of being water conservation minded.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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