LEBANON — City leaders say that despite higher costs, the decade-long process to convert Lebanon’s water supply to Great Cincinnati Water Works will ultimately be beneficial for residents.
After a 2001 water study and subsequent years of exploration, city leaders approved the merger with GCWW in the summer of 2008 with a goal of completing it by January 2013.
In the following two-and-a-half years, the city has spent $2.84 million to improve its own water systems in preparation for the transfer, including installing larger mains on Deerfield and Glosser roads and East Street. GCWW has also begun construction on a 24-inch water main on Mason-Morrow-Milgrove Road.
The merger has come under fire — even from within city council — as the city has raised water rates by 6 percent each of the past three years.
Councilwoman Charleen Mehaffie Flick has always opposed the merger because of the cost increases, which she felt were too large too fast. Flick also does not like the permanence of the plan, which once the city is in, can never back out from.
In December, councilman Matt Rodriguez complained the merger was based on too much theoretical data, such as growth for the city, when such things could not be accurately predicted.
City manager Pat Clements and water director John Habig still contend it is the right move for the city.
While Clements concedes the turnover to GCWW was the most costly option the city could have adopted, a study conducted in 2008 predicted that during the next 20 years the annual rate increases necessitated by the merger would only be .6 percent greater than if the city had stayed on its own water system.
The city would have incurred large expenses regardless of its decision because much of the water system is in dire need of repair.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the 104-year-old filtration building that sits off Ohio 63. The building — which was once a schoolhouse — was last updated in the 1970s, according to city records.
Habig said the water from GCWW is of a much greater quality than the city can provide from its wells.
Whereas current city water averages 500 milligrams of calcium — a level deemed exceptionally “hard” — the GCWW water will contain only 150 milligrams of calcium.
Lebanon is also one of the few remaining cities in Warren County that does not add fluorine — a chemical used to strengthen teeth —to its water. GCWW water has fluorine added to it.
The city has been studying its water system since 2001. Between 2003 and 2005, it made eight attempts to create additional wells, only one of which was successful.
The well field’s location — near Interstate 71 on the southern edge of town — puts the water in danger of being contaminated if a tanker truck were to overturn. GCWW provides additional safeguards and has a much greater water supply to make the stock more secure, Habig said.