Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the city has no immediate plans to take legal action against the Cullman County Commission over a water contract dispute.
“We have not filed a lawsuit,” Townson said. “Our thought process is that they’ll eventually come along with us ... We don’t want to litigate anybody.”
The city has taken issue with a county proposal to develop a well in southeast Cullman County, on the basis that it would constitute an “anticipatory breach” of a purchase agreement requiring the county to purchase water exclusively from the city.
The well would reportedly serve as a supplementary water source and could be mixed with water bought from the city in an effort to improve water quality.
According to the contract, the only way the county could purchase water from another source is in the case of an emergency, such as a major drought.
If the commission goes forward with the plan, Townson said the city would look at other options first before considering litigation.
“We would probably call in ADEM, or some other regulatory group, to try and show it shouldn’t be done,” he said. “We would try and look at those avenues.”
Planning is already underway to dig the well, which is being spearheaded by Cullman County Commissioners Wayne Willingham and Doug Williams.
“We have started the process of getting a permit from ADEM and our engineering firm is working on the plan,” Williams said.
In the short-term, Williams said the well would only be used as an emergency source of water if the city supply was running low.
Townson has previously stated he has no issue with the county using a well during emergency situations — his concern is that it will be used to supplement water purchased from the city.
Cullman County Commission Chairman James Graves said he has and will continue to oppose the associate commissioners’ plan to build a well.
“I don’t know where it stands, but I’ve opposed it all along and believe it’s unnecessary,” he said.
In case of a drought, Graves said the commission already has a contract in place to purchase water from Arley if the city supply is critically low.
“The biggest reason is that, in the summer in Cullman County, if water goes down for just a little while it can be terrible for poultry farmers,” he said. “You only have about a two hour window to get water back in there until chickens start dying. It behooves us to have something like this in place, but only for emergencies.”
Townson said he believes the county’s plan to mix well water with water purchased from the city is a bad move because it could create unforeseen water flow and water quality issues.
“We just don’t think that is good policy,” he said. “We still believe it could cause a lot of problems. We’re just hoping this can be resolved and we can do what’s best for Cullman County.”
Despite the city’s concerns, Williams said the commission still wants to try mixing water if it could improve water quality.
“That is part of our long-range engineering plan,” he said.
The commission has complained that the distance the water travels to certain areas of the county degrades water quality, though city water does currently meet all federal water quality standards.
City officials are already taking steps to address those concerns, as the Cullman water treatment plant is now testing a new water treatment method using chlorine dioxide. The process could potentially reduce disinfectant byproducts by up to 20 percent.
Willingham said he is glad the city is making an effort, but added he would still like to test the option of mixing well water.
“We eventually want to test it and see if it improves our water quality,” he said. “We’re just trying to take care of our customers.”
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 225.