The sun rises over the water reservoir in Paulding on the morning of November 22, 2022. (Photo/Adam Papin)

Communities across Paulding County must solve the riddle of how to replace aging infrastructure so their residents can access quality drinking water. One possible solution is a regional water system, and that answer took center stage Monday morning.

Leaders from across the county came together to hear the results of a feasibility study commissioned by the county commissioners, Antwerp and Paulding villages, and Carryall, Harrison and Paulding townships. Conducted by Wessler Engineering, a firm located in Bluffton, Ohio, the study analyzed the strengths and weakness of each village’s current water system, and then offered three proposed solutions if regionalization is pursued.

“I would challenge anyone in the county to let us know when there was a time when seven county entities met together for any one project to discuss,” said Tim Copsey, the director of the Paulding County Economic Development office, who coordinated the collaboration.

The study determined the daily water usage in Antwerp, Paulding and Payne. It also measured whether Paulding’s current water treatment facility could provide enough water to the residents of all three communities and the townships. The study further explained the current strengths and weaknesses of each water system.

According to the study, Paulding has excess water supply and plenty of production capacity with its existing reservoir and water treatment plant. Wessler Engineering project engineer Ben Schroeder stated Paulding, “operate[s] a very advanced water treatment plant.”

Antwerp has an aging water plant that is poor condition, and the village is looking into ways to replace it. As previously reported, the village is weighing significant water tap rate increases to pay for a new structure. The raw groundwater also contains high levels of hydrogen sulfide, iron and manganese.

Payne faces many challenges as well. The study said the village “has an aging water treatment plant that is sub-optimal condition with many assets nearing, or already exceeding, the end of their useful life.”

It added, “if a significant improvement project were to move forward, a complete overhaul of the existing facility, if not a complete replacement, would need to be considered.”

Despite the challenges facing Payne, Schroeder praised the village water department. “They do a great job keeping it running for how old the condition of the plant is.”

That said, Payne’s future growth will be impacted by the status quo. “Their current wellfield is maximized. If they choose to grow as a community, they need to look for new wellfields outside of town.”

Townships’ interests in any proposed project primarily lay in providing fire protection and serving any businesses located along the proposed transmission line.

Goals of the regionalization discussed included closing the excessive capacity gap in Paulding, alleviating concerns Antwerp has regarding its aging water treatment plant and limited capacity, and addressing Payne’s wellfield operating at capacity. Other objectives include “providing means for growth in the townships and non-community entities, provide water utility for townships … , and provide county and district wide fire protection.”

The first alternative would involve constructing a booster station at the intersection of SR 111 and SR 500. Water would then be pumped from the booster station to the intersection of SR 111 and SR 49, where it would be split north and south to Antwerp and Payne respectively.

Advantages include meeting the needs of each community, including providing softer water to residents of Antwerp and Payne. Disadvantages are that it would require a chemical feed station, it would provide no additional water storage, and individual communities would lose their autonomy. Projected total costs would be $27,069,000.

If regionalization was pursued, Wessler’s preferred option would be constructing a booster station, chemical feed station at SR 111 and SR 500 and a 300,000-gallon elevated tank at the intersection of SR 111 and SR 49. From there, branches would extend north and south to Antwerp and Payne.

The advantages for Antwerp would include replacing the current water treatment plant, meeting maximum demand, provide additional storage capacity, as well as softer water. For Payne, the advantages are largely the same as Antwerp but also include eliminating the need for water treatment plant improvements in the future. Paulding would benefit from using existing capacity through new customers. The main disadvantages are lost autonomy for each community and some of the highest upfront construction costs of the projects.

Wessler wrote that an elevated tank would best position the area for “future, regional growth.” That position would cost the involved entities a projected $30.6 million.

The final option would serve Payne and Antwerp with ground storage. The only difference between this option and the preferred one would be that the storage would be buried rather than above ground. Advantages include shared construction and operation costs and greater potential funding opportunities. Disadvantages include the same loss of autonomy for communities, the need for multiple booster stations that lead to higher construction costs, and it doesn’t provide the same level of fire protection.It’s important to understand the study is a starting point. The timeline discussed is five-years from start to finish, so regionalization is a long-term solution to a problem that has developed over many years. The total cost is projected at $31.6 million.

The next step is for the entities involved to decide whether to proceed with further exploration of the study, including determining what funding might be available. However, when the study was first discussed in March, several present stated that the EPA and other agencies are likely to be more receptive to funding projects that utilize economies of scale than they would be for those at the village-level.

“When you hear a price tag thrown out today, we’re not all going to run back to our villages and townships and say, ‘holy crap, we can’t do this,” said Copsey. “What we’re going to do today is take this information that we’ve learned, can it happen or can it not?”

The economic development office was tasked to contact members of the Ottawa/Bluffton, Ohio water district and the North Ohio water district in the Toledo area, to see if representatives could come and present their good or bad experiences of their existing collaboration water projects.

It was determined that the PCED office would be used as a point for future contact for everyone involved. A digital copy of the study will be shared by Wessler to the PCED office and can then be distributed to other entity members not in attendance.

Copsey shared, “Today, Paulding County became stronger, if only in knowledge. Now we have to decide how to best react to the information and move the county forward. These are historic discussions and exciting times in Paulding County.”

(Adam Papin is the editor of The Paulding County Progress. He can be reached at progress@progressnewspaper.org)