Beginning this week, Ligonier-area residents will get their tap water from the Greater Johnstown Water Authority instead of local wells and a reservoir.
A $10 million joint project between the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County and the Johnstown authority will supply water to Ligonier Borough, Laughlintown, Laurel Mountain, and parts of Ligonier Township.
Water for the 1,500 customers will now be fluoridated, which most dentists recommend to prevent tooth decay. The Westmoreland water authority does not add fluoride to its water.
"This was a great project," said Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas. "And our county municipal authority did it all with an in-house crew, so they saved money there."
The 16-inch waterline was laid over 15 miles during the last 18 months.
Officials stress the importance of the new water source for development in the eastern portion of the county.
Chris Kerr, manager of the Westmoreland water authority, said the new waterline will provide the opportunity for other nearby communities, including some in Cambria and Somerset counties, to tap into the new line in the future.
"This improvement allows for the concept of regionalizing that portion of our service territories," Mr. Kerr said. "The area in between Ligonier and Johnstown is very rural."
The pipeline runs for eight or nine miles along the right-of-way of state Route 271, he said. The rest of the line runs through woods.
He said Ligonier Township had applied for a $3 million loan for an extension to the new line that runs through its township. And he said Fairfield, also in Westmoreland County, may benefit from the line. Township officials there already have approved constructing several fire hydrants along the line.
In the future, the new line may supply larger communities to the west and south of Ligonier, as well.
"The potential exists to tie into the Latrobe water system, and the water systems in Donegal and Derry Township," Mr. Kerr said.
Tom Gray, manager of the Latrobe Municipal Authority, said their customers could benefit from the new line.
"We have our own water system, and we serve 8,000 customers in Latrobe and Unity and Derry townships," he said. "But if I were betting, I'd say sometime down the road, we might merge with the Westmoreland County system."
He said the Latrobe authority has an older water plant and spent $5 million in 2008 to upgrade its filtration plant.
"The regulations make it difficult to run a smaller system," he said. "They are a one-size-fits-all. You still have to do all the monitoring and testing. The county water system is a good one, they run a good operation. We've talked to them in the past about merging."
He said this waterline to Johnstown helps guarantee quality water for the region.
"This new water source solidifies water for this part of the county," said Mr. Gray. "People are dying for good water around the world. And we are experiencing good growth in the area. We have a new Walmart and shopping areas in Unity, and there is a new Arnold Palmer hotel and a 200-300 unit housing plan. We have the Victoria Highlands housing plan, too, with 74 lots.
"We serve Saint Vincent College, and the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport is doing well, and the City Brewing Co. in Latrobe is, too."
Mr. Kopas said there is good growth in the eastern part of the county.
"We're expanding the industrial park near the airport," he said, "and the airport is experiencing record volume. And with development comes the need for infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewers."
Mr. Gray said the Latrobe system does have two emergency connections to the MAWC system in case of contamination or waterline breaks, one near Beatty Road and Route 30, and a second beyond the airport.
The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County currently serves 120,000 customers in five counties. Its main sources of water are the Youghiogheny River for communities in the south and the Beaver Run Reservoir in Bell in the northern end of the county.
The Westmoreland authority purchased the Ligonier Borough water system in 2006 for about $3 million.
Mr. Kerr said the old Ligonier water plant just outside of the borough was in need of repairs, and this new waterline will allow the authority to bypass the plant, old wells and mothball the reservoir.
"It is pretty much an island," Mr. Kerr said of the Ligonier service area. "Our water authority lines do not connect to Ligonier right now, they stop about 15 miles away in Unity Township. And even if they were connected, our authority would not have enough pressure to serve all 1,500 Ligonier customers."
Small "residential wells were providing water in Ligonier, and there was no long-term reliable water source," he said.
The North Fork Reservoir south of Johnstown will be the source of the water now, and it is treated at a Johnstown water plant, he said.
Rates for Ligonier-area customers will remain the same, but like all MAWC customers, they will see higher rates in February.
The MAWC board approved a rate increase at its November board meeting, raising the average yearly rate for residents by about $75, Mr. Kerr said. That will be about a 25 percent increase and the first since 2008. He said an average residential customer uses about 52,000 gallons a year.
"This project is a model for how counties can work together," Mr. Kerr said. "They had an excess of water in Johnstown, and we had a need. Rarely do you find two municipal authorities or organizations like this who work together in Western Pennsylvania. So often, our counties are parochial, whether it is with water supplies or police forces."
Officials from the two county water authorities met near the halfway point, at a newly constructed water tower near the Laurel Summit, on Nov. 9 to dedicate the pipeline.
The Westmoreland authority will purchase about 500,000 gallons of water a day from the Johnstown authority, at $1.22 per thousand gallons, with the ability to buy as much as 3 million more gallons a day.
The two authorities financed the waterline construction with the help of state loans, which will be repaid over 30 years, Mr. Kerr said.
The Municipal Authority advises Ligonier-area customers that the American Dental Association has endorsed fluoridation of community water supplies as safe and effective for preventing tooth decay. Children who drink optimally fluoridated water on a regular basis do not need to take fluoride dietary supplements.
Authority officials advised parents of children to contact their physician or pediatric dentist about discontinuing the use of fluoride supplements for their children. It also noted that some home water treatments, such as reverse osmosis units, will remove fluoride, so customers should consult the water treatment manufacturer to determine if their water treatment system is removing fluoride. If so, parents should consult their dentist or physician about whether additional fluoride supplements are necessary.
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com