March Editorial Winner

A little history

WAYNE TROTTER, The Countywide & Sun

History can be an unsettling subject, even among neighbors. Close to a quarter-century ago, Tecumseh wisely invested $2 million in water for the future. That money, which the city borrowed, was funneled through the Pottawatomie County Development Authority along with $18 million from the City of Shawnee and major assistance from the federal government. The payoff for Tecumseh was supposed to be 15 percent of the lake's water or more than 600,000 gallons a day. Shawnee would get the other 85 percent.
But several years later, the Tecumseh City Council dropped the ball. It signed a contract that in effect said Shawnee would treat all the Wes Watkins water, deliver Tecumseh's share and bill Tecumseh for the treatment costs plus associated costs. This newspaper, then simply The Tecumseh Countywide News, vigorously opposed that contract because it looked to us as if doing that would put Tecumseh in a trap. Tecumseh would have two sources of water (Wes Watkins and Tecumseh Lake) and for much of most years, the 600,000 gallons would be sufficient to meet Tecumseh's daily needs. What would come of the Tecumseh Lake water and the city's existing treatment plant? We had other objections but in comparison, those were incidental.
What happened? Exactly what we feared all those years ago. Wes Watkins was finished in the late 1990s and Tecumseh hasn't used a drop of its water yet. It's gone over the spillway and down the North Canadian River. By now, Tecumseh residents ought to feel at home when they visit Lake Eufaula. In effect, they're swimming and fishing in their own water.
The contract is no longer a problem. Subsequent City Councils saw the light and began negotiating with Shawnee to change the offending contract to allow Tecumseh to treat the water its citizens paid for more than two decades ago. Thanks for that largely go to Linda Praytor, now Tecumseh's vice mayor, and Linda Peterson, now the mayor of Shawnee.
The problem now is that Tecumseh has no way to get the water to its lake and subsequently its treatment plant. The city is working on that now. Building a pipeline will cost about another million and take about a year, we're told. That is one of the projects Tecumseh has assigned to former City Manager Jim Thompson, now a consultant. With luck and hard work, Tecumseh will finally have its water in little more than 12 months.
But meanwhile, this searing drought has practically emptied Tecumseh Lake. It was little more than a puddle before this week's wonderful rains and now is only about 25 percent full according to Interim City Manager Jimmy Stokes. It will take another good rain and maybe still another to begin to restore the lake as a reliable source of water.
And guess what? If you live in Tecumseh, you're drinking and otherwise consuming Wes Watkins water right now ... and probably some from the Twin Lakes as well. Tecumseh is buying treated water from Shawnee and raising its rates slightly to cover the costs. Shawnee is acting as a friend in need to its smaller neighbor, but for a while this story is back to Square One.
It really is a sad story, one that didn't have to happen and wouldn't have if enough citizens had paid attention oh, about 20 years ago. The moral, if there is one, is to watch what your elected officials are doing. The only way to do that is through this and other newspapers. No other outlet covers those local bodies except at times of high crisis when a few television stations might wander over and grab a few seconds of tape and a sound bite or two. Water contracts don't attract that kind of attention.
They're boring.
Babies have grown to voting age while Tecumseh waited for its water. Since Wes Watkins opened, more than 3,000,000,000 gallons of water Tecumseh owns has flowed down the North Canadian. When it comes to government, even boring things can be very important.