MANSFIELD - It started this past summer when officials at Mansfield Borough announced the borough was "out of water" and that there would be no more tap-ins effective immediately.
That came as particularly bad news for several businesses wanting to build and open in both the borough and Richmond Township, because parts of the township are connected to the borough's municipal water system.
According to chief water operator Barry Cleveland, the system has been "extended as far as it can go."
"We don't want to keep issuing tap-ins and then go into a drought and have no water for existing customers," he said.
The Susquehanna River Basin Commission also has prohibited the authority from removing any more than 300,000 gallons of water per day from its two operating wells at Lambs Creek, one of which was recently completed, because it is concerned about too much use drying up the creek and impacting aquatic life in it, Cleveland said.
The combination of the lack of rain and ever increasing demands for water have created a problem for not only a movie theater complex that the university and a local development corporation want to build downtown, but also the rapidly developing Richmond Township corridor between the borough and Blossburg.
A business represented by Pyramid Development wanted to bring a natural gas related industry to the township that would supply more than 100 jobs but was denied last summer because of the ban on tap-ins to municipal water.
According to Cleveland, that business will now drill a well for its potable water supply and tap in to the authority for fire suppression only.
Betterment Organization of Mansfield Treasurer Scott Bastian said the new building for the unnamed company had to have a sprinkler system and it had to be tapped into municipal water "for insurance reasons."
"The Mansfield water thing needs to be taken care of," he added.
Another business, Dunkin' Donuts, ended up drilling its own well in front of Tractor Supply. Ground was broken on the project this fall.
A third business, a Candlewood Suites motel, has yet to break ground because of the water issues. Plans for another motel, as yet unnamed, also are on hold.
The last full commercial tap-in in Richmond Township to be issued was to Lisa Guthrie for a mini-business park behind the Wendy's Restaurant along Business Route 15 south of the borough.
That building, which contains a First Heritage Federal Credit Union, as well as Guthrie's accounting business and two others, opened this fall.
The still under construction Hampton Inn and Suites, which sits behind Microtel, has been issued a tap-in as part of the Interstate 99 business park allotment, said Cleveland.
The inn was supposed to open a year ago, but delays in getting equipment to the site put the project back, Bastian said. It should be open early next year, he added.
Cleveland said the business park, which was supposed to be for light industrial businesses, has changed somewhat with the construction of the two motels and plans for a large housing development behind it.
Bastian said the development has water because "two to three years ago it got approved for the student housing and they allocated water in the park and now they are using that water for other things like the Renegade building and the new apartments, which they are going to build in phases, 60 up front, and then as Mansfield solves their water problem they can add the rest."
Mansfield University has been discussed as a potential extra water source for the borough, but Cleveland said the price they wanted for their water from their new water plant was double what the borough sells water for, making it unaffordable.
Low water pressure in certain parts of the borough also have been plaguing the authority, with no money to fix the problem.
"We are looking at grant money to try to put a booster station in, but that would cost $250,000," Cleveland said.
Last year when there was plenty of water from a wet spring and fall, Cleveland said the authority was selling about 10,000 to 30,000 gallons a day to the natural gas industry, but that stopped in June when a summer dry spell set in.
In the meantime, a Richmond Township Water Task Force formed and has met several times to investigate how much water is available, if any, that can be developed into a municipal water source.
The task force last met in November with Brian Auman, a landscape architect from Rettew Associates in Williamsport.
Auman was contacted by the task force because they needed a strategy on getting a more regional water system network.
"What we did was review a regional document they had in place, a comprehensive plan from 2005 that was done with Donnelly Group, but the assumptions on growth and development were completely different then than they are now, because of the natural gas industry's presence in the region," he said.
"A plan on water needs for 10 to 15 years out needs to be looked at as well as demographics and the need for water for commercial development," Auman added. "The need is pretty evident."
Auman said he and his team are working on getting the task force some suggestions on an approach, and what kind of data they need.
"The 2005 data is out the window because of the gas industry and the changes it is bringing," he added.
Regional Task Force administrator David Flesch said he had spoken with Blossburg"s borough manager George Lloyd about the borough's plans to start drilling two new test wells in anticipation of increased water demands in the region. Blossburg wants to help supply water for the region and appears to be in good shape with its water supply.
The borough is concerned about a proposed new quarry in the same area potentially contaminating its water wells.
"We have sent all the information we gathered to the Bureau of Mines and no determination is expected until summer of next year," Lloyd said.
In the meantime, work on test wells in Hamilton Township to find water for Richmond, Covington and Putnam Townships goes on.
Lloyd said Eichelberger's Inc., of Harrisburg is drilling test wells off Taylor Run Road with the hope that a good source of water may be found and then sold to the townships to the north once it is permitted by the appropriate agencies.
Roger Pollok, field geologist with Casselberry and Associates, said the crew drilling test wells has already found one water source that looked "pretty good" and are working on a second.
Richmond Township representative Ed Trask, who wants to put a housing development on property his family owns near Canoe Camp, also is starting testing on his property, "so there are some attempts to seek water but we need to get started on doing a needs assessment and what that would entail," Flesch said.
Wellsboro has had its own water troubles, but is working on getting them resolved, said borough manager Dan Strausser.
In November, the municipal authority approved going out for bid on a new system as soon as specs are ready for the new Pall's membrane filter, which has been operating under a state Department of Environmental Protection pilot program permit for about a year.
The project is estimated to cost around $1.7 million, but according to Strausser, it shouldn"t affect rates because the authority just received $2.78 million in gas lease funds from 618 acres it owns.
Wellsboro also is "continuing to look for new sources of water with the assistance of Geoservices hydrologist Joe McNally," he added.
"Wellsboro is somewhat limited in where it can look for water because the wells are surface influenced and wherever there are exceptional value wetlands, DEP tells us we can't look there," Strausser said.
Like Mansfield, Wellsboro was told by government agencies that they couldn't use the Keck well after they spent several hundred thousand dollars on it because of its location in the Muck, which was designated an exceptional value wetland in 2012.
Meanwhile, Strausser said, the sand filters are working well "which they usually do at this time of the year."
"We usually have the most problems with them in spring and early summer when it rains a lot," he said.
"The sand filters do too good of a job and they clog up and they won't let the water go down and be treated and we can't produce enough treated water for the borough," he said.
Wellsboro, which uses around 800,000 gallons of water per day, has been able to handle projects, including Greenwood Gardens, a 40-unit townhouse complex off Greenwood Street; Penn Wells Lodge's 40-room expansion; and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital additions.
"Between our wells and Hamilton Lake and with the new treatment system we will be treating an additional million gallons a day," he added.
The new system will make it possible to take one of the sand filters off line if it has a problem without having to put a boil water advisory on water users "because we will have the new system taking up the slack."