COLDWATER, Mich. — Branch County Commissioners joined the Ohio-Michigan-Indiana Regional Council of Governments at their meeting Tuesday evening.

Branch County Administrator Bud Norman presented information about the council to the five-person board of commissioners. It was developed to monitor ground water in a three-state region that is served by the Michindoh Aquifer.

The board gave Norman and Branch County Drain Commissioner Michael Hard permission to attend a meeting Thursday at 1 p.m. in Williams County, Ohio.

On July 30, Steuben County Commissioners joined officials from Hillsdale County, Michigan and Defiance and Williams counties in Ohio for an organizational meeting held in Bryan, Ohio. The primary focus of the interstate governmental body is identifying the aquifer boundaries through scientific studies for the purpose of future monitoring. Counties represented in the council include Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties; Williams, Fulton and Defiance counties in Ohio; and Lenawee, Hillsdale and Branch counties in Michigan.

Meetings have been held over the past year by county commissioner representatives pertaining to constituent concerns about the Michindoh Aquifer. Artesian of Pioneer, based in Pioneer, Ohio has applied with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to site a test well in Fulton County. The potential water utility would send an estimated 15 million gallons a day out of the aquifer boundaries to Toledo suburbs that have traditionally been served by Toledo municipal services. The cost of the service and worries about toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie led to the towns looking into other water sources.

On Aug. 16, the Toledo Blade reported that Toledo officials appear ready to offer 40-year uniform water supply contracts to the neighboring municipalities that agree to join a new regional water commission.

“The uniform contracts are a key step in moving toward a regional water system that has fair and equitable water rates, something Toledo and the eight municipalities that buy its water have been pursuing for years,” says the article.

Artesian of Pioneer remains poised to also fill the need and has drawn outspoken resistance from citizens throughout the aquifer area. The concern is that excessive draining from the aquifer could eventually dry wells providing drinking water as well as irrigation for farms and industrial uses. That would not happen immediately, says Trine University professor Jeremy Rentz, and by the time harm could be documented, it may be too late.

The problem has come to the attention of Indiana legislators, said Mary Martin, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun’s regional director.

“It’s going to be neat to see how it plays out, to see what’s really underneath there and exactly where it is,” Martin said.

At the Aug. 5 meeting of the Steuben County Commissioners, Commissioner Ron Smith said federal grant money may be available to assist in the OMI Regional Council of Governments’ studies. He said 12 wells may be drilled to keep tabs on aquifer levels.

Other resources that may be available are from the United States Geological Survey, which has a well near Hamilton used to monitor the Michindoh Aquifer area; Indiana Department of Natural Resources water level data; and satellite imaging.

The council is made up of one commissioner from each of the nine counties involved. According to the articles of agreement established July 30 by Williams, Defiance, Hillsdale and Steuben counties, officers will be chosen for two-year terms. There is an exception for the terms of the first officers, which will expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

Each state must be represented on the executive board made up of the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, say council by-laws, also adopted July 30.

The council was set up for a five-year period, set to be renewed by a majority vote for further five-year terms.

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