WILMINGTON — New Hanover County’s public water authority can now send drinking water between its two largest plants.
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority finalized the change on Tuesday. Now, the water from both the Sweeney plant — providing 80% of the drinking water in the service area — and the Richardson plant’s 15% can flow to customers who are served by either.
The move should make CFPUA’s system less complex, allow it to move supply quickly in an emergency and monitor water quality from both plants on the same schedule.
CFPUA assistant public information officer Cammie Bellamy said the company has been planning the move for months and customers should not notice a difference.
The utility company had the ability to send water from one system to another via existing connections, but in the past that process required manually opening pipes and mixing water with different characteristics. It was a measure that, in theory, CFPUA could have resorted to if one station was unable to supply enough water to its customer base.
Both plants treat water effectively for PFAS, with granulated activated carbon filters at Sweeney and reverse osmosis at Richardson.
Sweeney has only been effectively removing PFAS compounds from water since October, when the GAC filters returned the plants first clean bill of health since the authority became aware of the pollution from Chemours in 2017.
Bellamy said the move to combine the two feeds was years in the making and required the utility to equalize the water quality between the two. Sweeney draws water from the Cape Fear River, while Richardson pulls its supply from groundwater.
CFPUA feeds orthophosphate through all its systems to protect older pipes against corrosion, according to Bellamy. The water quality team had to equalize the chemical’s presence in both supplies before connecting them through infrastructure already built into the systems.
The 5% of water not handled by Sweeney or Richardson, is passed through the Monterey Heights system, distributed from groundwater in the southern tip of the county. Its supply will continue to operate as a separate distribution system.
Most customers will still get water treated from the plant that served them in the past. Currently, Sweeney is sending water to Richardson but not vice versa. A small fraction of customers in Castle Hayne and Murrayville, where the connections are located, will receive water from both plants.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality worked with CFPUA on the change, and the company will monitor water more frequently through March. Some customers residing close to the connections could see cloudiness or discoloration as it adjusts to changing directions and flowing through new pipes, but CFPUA said it is safe to drink.
Customers who are experiencing water quality concerns may call CFPUA’s water emergency hotline: 910-332-6565.
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