Wednesday, May 05, 1999

Wyoming's pride in water crystal clear




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You can't taste it, but civic pride is one of the main ingredients in the water flowing through Wyoming's pipes and faucets.

        That pride is the reason the small city of sprawling homes and tidy, tree-lined streets on Cincinnati's northern exposure is building a new $5.1 million waterworks.

        A recent story about how the new plant will replace an antiquated one in operation since 1892, how it will open in March of the year 2000 and how much it will cost, made me shake my head and mutter: I just don't get it.

        The city of Cincinnati is right next door to Wyoming, I told myself. Cincinnati has one of the best waterworks in the world. Besides being wet and plentiful, Cincinnati's water is safe and clean. An Environmental Protection Agency official declared the city's granular carbon filtration system to be as good as it gets.

        Cincinnati sells water to communities surrounding Wyoming. And it sells its water cheap.

        David Rager, director of Cincinnati's Water Works, told me the city offered quite a deal to Wyoming. “We could have saved them 70 percent a year on their electricity and chemical costs. They could have frozen their customers' rates for 13 years, and we would have hooked them into our system for free.”

        Wyoming's city council said thanks but no thanks to Cincinnati's offer and proceeded to build a new water plant.

        The foundation and walls are up at the new plant. The slab floors are being poured, and some equipment is moving in.

        Still, I don't get it. And I said so to John Braun, part of the seven-member council that voted unanimously to keep the waterworks in Wyoming. He said there wasn't even a hint of opposition. I didn't get that either.

        “Maybe you have to live here to get it,” he told me. John's been a Wyoming resident for 38 years.

        “Wyoming places a high value on keeping our identity,” he said. “It's easy for a small city like us to get swallowed up by the major city in the region, like Cincinnati.”

        Mary Benken swallows with ease when she downs Wyoming water. She drinks it at home, at work in her florist shop and during meetings of city council, where she has served for 14 years.

        “Building a new water plant is a local-control issue,” she told me. “The water's right under our feet. It's our own natural resource. And it tastes great, treated or untreated, right from the wells.”

        I went out to Wyoming for the waters. Dan Sullivan, the city's public works director, let me take a taste as the wet stuff flowed directly from four of the six wells that go down 200 feet to tap the aquifer running under most of the city.

        The aquifer, a natural, clay-lined layer of porous rock and sand, traps snow runoff and rainwater. The water runs cool — 55-59 degrees year-round — and clean.

        “We test it once a month, and the bacteria level always comes up negative,” Dan told me.

        I tasted the water at the old plant. It gushed from a well-worn brass spigot attached to a gauge marked, “Raw Water.”

        My drink had a pronounced metallic taste, as if someone had stirred it with a railroad spike.

        “Got a little iron in it,” Dan said.

        Treated, the water tastes much better. Paul Sturkey, chef-owner of the Sturkey's restaurant in Wyoming, spoke of the city's drinking water as if it were a fine wine.

        “It has a crystal clarity,” he said, “and it leaves a clean finish on my palate.”

        The chef noted that the city tests his restaurant's water once a month. “That never happened in other cities I worked,” he said. “To me, it's another part of Wyoming's total attention to details.”

        The city of 8,100 prides itself on collecting leaves in the fall and returning them as mulch to residents in the spring. When it snows, Wyoming's road crews give the city's streets a clean sweep.

        And, when people want a drink of water, the city spends the money to make sure it flows, not from an outside source, but one close to home. Nice to see a town caring so much about serving its citizens that it refuses to put a price tag on civic pride.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

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