Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Brunswick residents face dried up wells, irrigation restrictions amid statewide drought

Well-users, farmers, and residents in Brunswick County have been negatively impacted by water shortages amid a new report finding last month to be the driest June in North Carolina’s history. (Courtesy Brunswick County)

BRUNSWICK — Well-users, farmers, and residents in Brunswick County have been negatively impacted by water shortages amid a new report finding last month to be the driest June in North Carolina’s history.

READ MORE: Brunswick H2GO issues irrigation ban for all customers

ALSO: H2GO digs deep for increased water capacity in Brunswick County

The Department of Environmental Quality sent out a press release Friday reporting nearly 75% of North Carolina’s counties are currently considered in a moderate or severe drought. The North Carolina State Climate Office stated on Friday that last month was the driest June on record dating back to 1895. 

Assistant state climatologist Corey Davis noted the fast onset of dry conditions met the criteria for a “flash drought” — determined by its quick onset and severity in a short timeline. On June 18, 65% of counties were considered “abnormally dry” — the least severe of four classifications used by the North Carolina Drought Advisory Management Advisory Council — but none were in the moderate or severe category.

“That’s a remarkably rapid degradation over the course of less than one month,” Davis wrote in a Friday blog post.

The NC Drought Advisory Management Advisory Council, a collaboration of drought experts from various government agencies listed Brunswick and Pender counties under the moderate drought category, while New Hanover is one of 21 counties classified as abnormally dry. 

Crop stress increases, reduced streamflow, and higher wildfire danger are factors DAMA considers under the moderate drought category. The group recommends adhering to local water use restrictions and minimizing nonessential water uses.

Cape Fear Public Utilities Authority provides the majority of NHC’s water services. Spokesperson Cammie Bellamy told Port City Daily the utility is keeping an eye on drought conditions but its water supply has not been significantly impacted.

Pender county spokesperson Brandi Cobb said the drought is negatively affecting corn and soybean farmers but did not have more information to share by press. 

Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO serves a sanitary district encompassing Leland, Belville, and Navassa and unincorporated parts of the northeastern section of the county. The utility issued a stage 4 water shortage alert on June 19, prohibiting all irrigation and non-essential water use. 

Brunswick H2GO lowered the alert to stage two on July 1 after a 48% decrease in customer water demand caused by irrigation restrictions. Daytime irrigation is still banned under the stage two advisory, but odd numbered properties are allowed to irrigate in the early morning and evening hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays, while even numbered properties can irrigate at the same time on Wednesdays and Sundays.

“People are really getting afraid we’re not going to have water,” Rhonda Florian, a Leland resident and H2GO customer, said Friday.

Residents in the Facebook group “Stop Over-Developing in Brunswick County” also reported experiencing water shortages under the drought conditions. Town Creek Road resident Drew Barberia said he’d been struggling without water for three days and had not received help from the local government, who advised him to apply for grant funding to receive improvements to his well.

“I’ve been on the phone with everyone from Raleigh to Bolivia,” he said. “I just had a kidney transplant. I have no water whatsoever because my wells dried up. I reached out to Health and Human Services and their answer was to give me a phone number to call these people to finance putting a well in.”

Brunswick spokesperson Meagan Kaszcak said it isn’t uncommon for the county to hear from residents experiencing dried out wells, particularly for shallow wells.

“Staff’s direct recourse is to facilitate and advise the property owner with a well on their options to improve their water source (such as a new/improved well), or whether they can tap into a municipal or the county’s water supply if available and possible,” she said.

Barberia told PCD he’d never experienced this type of water shortage despite living in the county for years. He said a local well-drilling company informed him they’d received more than 20 calls from residents struggling with similar problems. He said they attributed it to the county’s fast-paced development and growth.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” he said. “This is growing so fast over the last two years, it’s just unreal.”

Brunswick has been among the fastest growing counties in North Carolina for years; the county’s planning board has approved over 34,000 units since 2021.

H2GO’s partnership with Leland helped the city become Brunswick’s fastest growing municipality. Last year, Board member Steve Hosmer told PCD H2GO’s customer base grew by 10,000 from 2019 to 2023. It now serves 16,500 water and 18,000 sewer customers.

“The demand is increasing,” Florian said. “They don’t have enough water for people and they’ve got all these developments and apartment buildings going up.”

Research, including a 2021 Frontiers in Water study, has linked urban development to municipal water shortages. A 2019 Earth’s Future study found population growth and climate change as top sources of strain on public water systems. 

Brunswick residents, such as the county’s NAACP president Carl Parker, have repeatedly criticized county officials for failing to prioritize the expansion of water utilities to the county’s lower income, minority, and rural communities. Randy Thompson — chair of Brunswick County commissioners — urged staff to prioritize applications to the State Revolving Water Fund Grant in response to resident concerns.

Kascsak told PCD in November it would be “difficult or impossible” to answer how many Brunswick residents remain disconnected to water infrastructure, because the county’s public utility is not the only water provider in the area. H2GO, Southeast Brunswick Sanitary, and some municipalities also serve a portion of county residents.

[Update: This article has been updated to remove information from a Brunswick County FAQ for an earlier drought unrelated to the current drought.]

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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