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Officials tour drought areas

County emergency managers will take a dozen more portable tanks to drought-stricken townships in the coming weeks, the first step in a long-range plan to provide safe drinking water to hundreds of residents whose wells have gone dry.

Friday, August 20, 1999

County emergency managers will take a dozen more portable tanks to drought-stricken townships in the coming weeks, the first step in a long-range plan to provide safe drinking water to hundreds of residents whose wells have gone dry.

"We might get some on loan, but we will probably buy two more tanks this week," said Don Mootz, executive director of Lawrence County Emergency Services. "Six to seven townships need tanks and in more than one spot."

Township trustees also will join with county and community leaders to write a long-range drought relief plan, because the dry ground will likely cause problems throughout the winter, Mootz said.

"I think if the community gets together and sees the need, I think we will find a solution," he said.

A rainfall deficit since 1998 and this summer’s high temperatures have left Lawrence residents with dry faucets. Many have no access to public water lines.

Donated water has been distributed weekly for some time. And two bulk water tanks have made rounds in townships since July.

"I’ve got 70 families out here in deep trouble," Elizabeth trustee Ron Davis said. "This is the fourth week I’ve personally hauled water."

Thursday morning, Sherry Bruce held up a jug of orange well water to show why Davis has made hauls, as officials from local and state emergency management agencies, township trustees, county commissioners and legislative representatives toured drought areas from Ironton to Waterloo.

Ohio Emergency Management Agency officials and television cameras trained their attention on the White Oak Road resident and dozens of others gathered in a neighbor’s yard next to a bulk water tank provided by the county EMA.

"We need water We need it bad," Mrs. Bruce said.

Although the Elizabeth and Decatur areas nearby will receive water lines through a grant, approval is months away.

County officials urged the Ohio Emergency Management Agency to help either by direct aid or by supporting the grants, but the state’s hands are tied, said Richard Roman, chief of operations at OEMA.

"One of the primary responsibilities we have is to help the county with developing an action plan," Roman said.

Water tanks will freeze outside this winter and will not meet the needs of residents, so local officials need long-range planning, and the state will point out where the county can obtain tanks or grants or whatever is needed, he said.

County leaders formed a planning committee immediately after Thursday’s tour, Mootz said. It will meet Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the OEMA does have water distribution tanks to loan, and ideas on where other resources can be found, Roman said.

The OEMA also reports to Gov. Bob Taft on the state’s drought condition.

The county has already declared a disaster, but if the governor makes a similar declaration then that opens more avenues for financial aid to battle the water problems, commissioner Paul Herrell said.

At Decatur town hall, though, trustees talk of the real solution – water lines.

"They need to hurry up and get the money down here to get the water to the people," trustee Jim McGuire said.

When people from Columbus see firsthand the problems in Lawrence County, it might help speed up the grant process, McGuire said.

"But I’ll tell you who should’ve been right here today – the governor," he said. "If he could come over to my house to take a shower in the morning, he’d say, ‘Boys, we need to get water out here.’"