Sometime in july, the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District will formally seek rate increases for bulk drinking water it supplies to the cities of Youngstown and Niles and the village of McDonald.
The request for the increases of 1.25 percent beginning July 2014 and 8.2 percent in July 2015 will be sought from the Court of Jurisdiction, consisting of one judge each from Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Officials of Youngstown, Niles and McDonald are not expected to object to the higher rates, and have said they do not intend to pass the increased costs on to their residential and suburban customers.
Although MVSD’s proposal is generating little controversy, the board of directors, along with Chief Engineer Thomas Holloway, would do well to use the opportunity to issue an in-depth report on the water supplier’s current operation and its future plans.
Indeed, that’s what Niles Council President Robert Marino talked about in responding to the announcement for the rate increases.
“I think we need stability for our rate payers, and I would rather see a long-range plan,” Marino told The Vindicator. “There is no consistency.”
In response, Holloway said he would not rule out the council president’s suggestion.
The timing for such a report on the present and future of the water treatment facility in Mineral Ridge and Meander Reservoir, the source of drinking water for more than 200,000 users, is ideal given all that’s going on in the Mahoning Valley not only with the changes in population — the number of people living in the region continues to decline — but with the oil and gas boom and other industrial development.
There was a time when the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District’s water reached more than 300,000 customers. Even then, the water treatment facility was not producing at full capacity.
What does the future hold? What are projections for the customer base?
In seeking the rate increases for 2014 and 2015, Holloway said the additional revenue will help the district cover the costs of improvements to its distribution system valves and the dam and spillway. The estimated cost of the improvements: $9.9 million.
Upgrading the facilities is essential to ensuring that the drinking water being supplied to Youngstown, Niles and McDonald is of the highest quality possible. Over the years, the quality has been consistently good.
Making public a long-term capital improvements plan would help the local governments plan for future rate increases.
As for the Utica shale play, which has major oil and gas companies staking claims in this part of Ohio, demand for water used in the fracking process is increasing. Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the city of Warren are among the government entities getting into the act.
But with such increased activity comes some legitimate environment concerns, which the state of Ohio and local governments have pledged to monitor closely.
While state law prohibits the MVSD from supplying water for oil and gas drilling, its member cities of Youngstown and Niles and McDonald village are under no such restrictions. But officials have made clear their first priority is to take care of the needs of their residents and suburban customers.
The shale boom has raised concerns that Meander Reservoir could be in harm’s way. Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone sought and received an assurance from the state that drilling in the vicinity of the reservoir will be closely monitored.
Richard Simmers, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, wrote that his agency takes seriously “our obligation to protect groundwater from contamination.”
The MVSD should make known the steps it is taking , in conjunction with the state, to protect Meander Reservoir.