EJ Water Cooperative, Inc. held its 29th annual membership meeting Thursday, March 8 at the Dieterich High School Gymnasium. Business conducted during the meeting included discussions regarding expansion of the co-op’s offerings to benefit the organization’s members and the community, system upgrades and construction projects, and holding the director election.
EJ Water Cooperative leadership have been evaluating how the organization conducts business to best serve its membership and community now and in the future. Although approximately 200 new users are added to the system each year, water use has been declining, there’s been a reduction in funding from various sources and the system’s infrastructure must be maintained. “The way we do business is changing,” said President Diane Aherin. “It’s about making connections that are mutually beneficial, and it’s expanding our economies of scale. It’s also why we have to diversify our revenue stream.”
The primary reason for forming EJ Water Cooperative in 1998 was to spur economic development in the area. CEO Bill Teichmiller stated that the need for ongoing economic development fueled board discussions to pursue a joint venture with Wabash Telephone Cooperative in Louisville to provide broadband internet service. This would serve as an additional revenue source, hold down costs for both entities and help the local economy.
During the meeting members saw the value of this type of diversification and unanimously voted to amend the co-op’s Articles of incorporation. This will enable the co-op to expand its services from water supply facilities for drinking and water treatment, to owning and operating telecommunications services including, but not limited to telephone, television, fiber optic, cable and broadband internet on a mutual or cooperative basis.
“Broadband is going to make a difference in our rural economy,” said Teichmiller. “The big deal is that it is going to be gigabit, which is super-fast. Many businesses can’t do business e-commerce with the kind of speeds we have right now.” He explained that for-profit companies won’t serve the rural markets because there are limited profit margins, so it is up to the co-ops to take it on. He said, “It’s back to us being not-for-profit and solving a problem for the members.”
The meeting’s keynote speaker was Brent Fewell, founder and chair of Earth and Water Law Group, based in Washington, D.C. Fewell, and former administrator US EPA’s office of water under U.S. President George W. Bush. He stated that one of the biggest challenges Congress is facing right now is how to fix our failing infrastructure. “Communities are struggling to maintain, clean safe water supplies. I can tell you the future is much bleaker,” he said. “But, there is hope based on what is happening here with the leadership in this town. The vision that existed 20 to 30 years ago continues to exist today.”
Several constructions projects have been completed or are underway. Phase 34 and 40 have been completed. Phase 49 will include construction of a new water tower between Neoga and Effingham. According to Teichmiller, it will provide better service and reliability in Louisville, the co-op’s second largest user. Upgrades to Phase 54 will provide a more adequate flow of water for members in that area. Two new communities will be coming on as wholesale customers.
During the meeting, members re-elected directors Garry Morrison, Chris Hartke and Mike Hall, and several employees were recognized for service milestones. They included Martha Miller and Phil Huber for 15 years of service, Dean Swingler for 20 years and Alvin Mammoser for 25 years. Former Office Manager Sandy Bierman, who recently retired after 23 years, was recognized for her contributions to the cooperative.