DIETRICH, Ill. (WCIA) -- Utility cooperatives are becoming more common. One of the fastest growing water co-ops is in Central Illinois. EJ Water was established in the 90's.
Now, the Effingham-based operation is being discussed at the White House. It started with a solution to provide drinking water to several communities at low cost and has since grown into a concept the president wants to learn more about.
"Back then, we was a stand alone system. We didn't have any partnerships or interconnects so when we had a leak or a well went down, it was an emergency and we had to get it up and going."
It all started when several communities banded together to find a way to bring clean water to homes.
"Water and waste water is kind of out of state out of mind, right?"
Bill Teichmiller is CEO of EJ Water; one of the fastest growing water co-ops in the state.
"He felt the co-op model was probably the best way to promelgate out the system. You're not tied to an annex area. You're not another unit of government. We really have much more freedom in that governance model."
The communities joined forces for several reasons: lower costs, better dependability and the need for fewer facilities.
"Over time, the story of EJ has kind of gotten out like, how do you do what you guys do? How does that co-op thing work?"
Lately, the EJ team has taken several trips to the White House because government officials, like EPA Director Scott Pruitt, are turning to them for advice on making this a nationwide initiative.
"We just continue to asked to come back. Recently, the EPA has asked us to get involved in peer-to-peer convening."
"How do other utilities share best practices? How does leadership work together if one utility solves a problem and other utilities have the exact same problem?"
EJ has 2,000 miles of water mains and more than 10,000 members. But, it wouldn't be possible without the forward thinking of this small community.
"If we don't keep our small towns economically relevant, they're not going to be sustainable."
The idea is small towns will not have the burden of managing a treatment plant and operators, like Patrick O'Dell, say they can handle problems with the touch of a button.
"It's really invaluable if we start getting low pressure calls. I can look at the tower or the pump station that's in that area."
Several other communities are getting onboard with the co-op route and, no matter wehre the EJ story goes from here, one thing won't change.
"Today, we're well beyond the borders of Effingham and Jasper, but we're still fulfilling the direct mission of improving the quality of life."
"When we can do a project and be able to serve a community, it just makes me feel like we've done our job, our service to the community as as co-op to be able to help these people."
The next co-op could be coming to Macon and Sangamon counties. Several towns nearby would become the United Regional Water Co-op. The hope is it would be built near Illiopolis by Spring 2019.