Water is foremost on the minds of many in rural areas today, and thanks to several Illinois water cooperatives, there are many that don’t have to worry about the wells running dry. These member-owned utilities provide safe, reliable and sustainable water services to thousands.
In 1946, the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) was given the responsibility to bring about water programs for the rural population. Many water cooperatives were established with significant help from rural electric cooperatives.
EJ Water Cooperative, Inc., located in Dieterich, Ill., was incorporated in May of 1989 and has developed into an eight-county regional water system serving members in Effingham, Jasper, Clay, Crawford, Cumberland, Richland, Fayette and Shelby counties. It is one of the fastest growing water systems in the state of Illinois and recently became the largest rural water cooperative in Illinois. From its first phase built in 1993 and serving 520 households and 100 miles of water mains, EJ Water has grown to more than 7,500 rural memberships over 1,500 miles of water mains. In 2010, the cooperative opened its new Delbert D. Mundt Water Treatment Plant which now has the capacity to produce 3.0 million gallons per day (MGD). Mundt, a strong community leader, also served on the board of directors for Norris Electric Cooperative in Newton, Ill.
As is often the case, finding sufficient funding can be the deciding factor in expansion. According to Bill Teichmiller, CEO of EJ Water, “The co-op would not have served one drop of water to anyone without funding. To date the USDA – Rural Development has provided the co-op with more than $50 million in grant and loan funding coupled with significant grant dollars from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s (DCEO) Community Development Assistance Program. Make no mistake – this funding is the lifeline and fuel that has brought this dream into a reality.”
Lincoln Prairie Water Company located in Shelbyville, Ill. currently serves more than 1,600 customers in Shelby County and has plans to expand into Montgomery and Christian counties. The first two phases have been completed for a total of 160 miles of water lines. Lincoln Prairie Water has strong ties with Shelby Electric Cooperative also headquartered in Shelbyville.
SouthWater, Inc. is a regional water system deep in southern Illinois. Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative was encouraged by area leaders to look into the possibility of a regional system which would enhance the quality of life and residents and stimulate economic growth. SouthWater has received more than $14 million in grants and $6.5 million in loans. It currently has 900 retail users, 7 full-time wholesale users and 4 part-time users over approximately 225 miles of water main.
Over the years electric cooperatives like Adams Electric Cooperative, Clay Electric Cooperative, Egyptian Electric Cooperative, EnerStar Electric Cooperative and others have been instrumental in starting, helping or even running rural water cooperatives. These cooperative efforts are examples of two cooperative principles—cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.