Cape Fear Public Utility Authority asking customers to cut indoor water usage by one-third; fines could be levied

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Workers dealing with water at the repair site in Brunswick County. Courtesy of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.
Workers dealing with water at the repair site in Brunswick County. Courtesy of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

After a water main break in Brunswick County last week, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is continuing to maintain its highest level of water restrictions and is asking that customers immediately cut their indoor water usage by a third.

Customers of the utility group, which provides services for the City of Wilmington as well as much of unincorporated New Hanover County (but not including the towns of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach), are asked to take several water conservation measures. These include take short showers instead of baths, using dishwashers and washing machines only when they have full loads, limiting the flushing of toilets if possible, and using as little water as possible when washing hands, brushing teeth, cooking and hand-washing dishes.

The new restrictions come one week after outdoor water usage for irrigation and car washing was prohibited, and a day after Brunswick County declared a state of emergency due to its water issues stemming from the break.

According to CFPUA Chief Communications Officer Mike McGill, the restrictions have started to make a dent but more conservation is still necessary.

“We’re seeing some promising data in the morning. We think people are really taking it to heart then and taking shorter showers and lessening their water use before work,” McGill said, saying they’ve seen a drop in day usage at businesses as well. “It’s when people get home at the end of the day and making dinner, washing dishes and giving their kids baths that we’re seeing the water usage go up. That’s what we’re trying to cut back on.”

On Thursday, CFPUA customers used 6.43 million gallons of water between 12 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to the agency. That number is down from 7.08 million gallons used during the same time period on Wednesday. Thursday’s numbers are down more than 1.3 million gallons from the same time period on Tuesday, when usage peaked at 7.73 million gallons between midnight and 2 in the afternoon.

Replacement pipes for the broken water main line in Brunswick County. Courtesy of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.
Replacement pipes for the broken water main line in Brunswick County. Courtesy of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

Still, McGill said more conservation is necessary. New Hanover County is not under a state of emergency thanks to other water reserves and water quality has not been affected, but a precautionary boil water advisory could be issued if water levels get to be too low. As a result, enforcement is in place and could result in fines for repeat violators.

“We always warn people first to give them a chance to correct their behavior,” said McGill, who said the warnings are always recorded so the CFPUA can monitor their water usage to see if they further violate the restrictions. “We haven’t had to issue any fines yet, but we’ve given out about two dozen warnings.”

After the first warning, repeat offenders can be fined up to $500 per violation per day. If those civil penalties are not successful in reducing water usage, a termination of service could occur.

Repairs to the broken pipe are taking a while, according to a CFPUA press release, due to difficult soil and flood conditions that are making the area unsafe for workers. CFPUA does not own the line in question. It is owned by the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority.

“The repair is requiring significant site preparation to ensure worker safety, which extends the time frame for the repair,” the CFPUA stated.

Repairs to the broken water pipe are expected to be completed by next week. The mandatory water restrictions in both New Hanover and Brunswick counties are in effect until further notice.