LELAND — Leland’s water tower in Brunswick Forest has been the subject of speculation, scrutiny, and confusion since 2017, its first year online.
Installing a booster pump — a pump that was included in the original design of the tower but not built — will help offset pressure issues for the town’s water customers. The pump is set to be operational by year’s end, according to the town’s spokesperson.
Since May, Leland’s water customers in Brunswick Forest have shared persistent concerns on social media about weak water pressure. Some report difficulty showering and some say irrigating their lawns is not possible in early morning hours.
The town’s pressure issues have recently been exacerbated by record demands associated with ongoing drought conditions in the region. But pressure fluctuations associated with the Brunswick Forest water tower predate recent conservation alerts.
Leland provides water to residents of Brunswick Forest and a small portion of Mallory Creek, according to the town’s spokesperson. Residents in Brunswick Forest were Leland’s first water customers in late 2009, when service was transferred from Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO to the town.
Port City Daily asked the town to engage in a myth-busting back-and-forth to directly clear up issues surrounding the tower. Leland’s spokesperson, Hilary Snow, provided the following general statement Monday:
“The Town recognizes there is a water pressure issue, but that issue is not limited to Brunswick Forest or Leland. However, having recognized the issue, we have already put forth a solution – a booster pump project to boost the flow of water to the Town’s water tower,” Snow said.
Town documents in January to authorize the construction contract for the booster pump project attribute pressure issues to the county’s supply line.
“Upon introduction of the operation of the water tower in the Brunswick Forest water system, staff noticed that the pressure coming in from the Brunswick County supply line often times did not have the adequate pressure necessary to completely fill the Town’s Water Tower,” Leland’s January construction contract summary states.
Last month, after consulting with the town’s Public Service department in June, Snow said pressure issues may be occurring elsewhere as well. “I would imagine it is an issue town-wide and perhaps county-wide because the water is coming from the County,” she said.
The county, however, disagreed.
Brunswick County provides treated water to the town of Leland. John Nichols, Brunswick County’s utilities director, said pressure issues are not the result of a lack of water availability or ability to produce it. They are also not the result of inadequate pressure coming in from the county, he said.
“Any pressure issues in the Brunswick County system are a result of localized capacity/demand issues due to high irrigation demand,” he said. Despite record demands, Nichols said Brunswick County has met pressure requirements in agreements with all its wholesale customers, consistent with pressures in past summer seasons.
“During [the] design of the Leland water system, it was determined that a booster pump station was needed to maintain pressures during all operational conditions,” Nichols said.
Why wasn’t the booster pump originally built?
In August 2018, Leland town manager David Hollis said at an infrastructure committee meeting, “when the water tower was designed, the Town used information received from the County,” he said. “When the County fills their water tower in the industrial park it fills our water tower at the same time. When their water tower is full, our water tower is full.”
The town became aware of pressure issues shortly after the tower first went into operation. A booster pump included in the original design was never constructed.
Leland’s former utility public services director, Jimmy Strickland, also attributed the town’s decision to exclude a booster pump to information received from Brunswick County.
“..the booster pump was originally included in the plans for the water tower, but when Brunswick County reviewed plans they suggested the booster pump was not needed,” Strickland said at a July 2017 Infrastructure Committee meeting. “The town went with his suggestion and removed the booster pump from the scope of work for the tower. Then staff found out the pressure coming into the system was not enough to fill the water tower. The water tower is not empty, but it is not full.”
Nichols offered a different perspective. He said county staff held several meetings with the town’s designers in 2014, before the tower was constructed.
“We advised them that the Hydraulic Grade Line varied considerably on the transmission main that they were connecting to based on the operational needs of the system and we recommended that they use a hydraulic model such as WaterCad to perform a Hydraulic Grade Line analysis to help determine the appropriate tank level,” Nichols said.
County staff did suggest the removal of the booster pump, but only under the condition that tweaks to the tower’s storage design were made, Nichols said. Suggested design tweaks to the tower were not adapted to accommodate the removal of the pump station.
“At some point [the town’s designers] indicated the likely need for a booster pump station and we raised the question of whether or not this could be avoided by adjusting the tank elevation and increasing the bowl height. As I recall, they did some additional analysis and indicated that solution would not work because it would result in the bowl being at an elevation that did not provide the required pressure in the area and that a booster pump station would be needed at some point in time.”
When presented with the apparent discrepancy in narratives, Niel Brooks, Leland’s assistant manager said staff changes within the Public Services Department make it difficult — “if not impossible” — for the town’s staff to comment on conversations held in 2017.
“All we can do as a Town is address the issues that we are confronted with today – fluctuations in water pressures,” Brooks said. “We are doing this with the booster pump project, which should help to mitigate the effect of the fluctuations in pressure coming in from the county system once it’s installed this year.”
Brooks attributed low-pressure issues to systemwide demands. “However, the direct reasons for the low pressures stem from the countywide demands on the system,” he said. “We continue to encourage residents to take the steps recommended in the water conservation alerts in order to mitigate the potential for low pressures.”
In May, Port City Daily requested information about the water tower including: what amount of water the tower is currently operating with; the maximum, normal, and minimum height maintained in the storage section of the tower; the lowest level recorded in the storage section with an associated date; the dates in May associated with the lowest and average height recorded in the storage section of the tower.
“We do not have any documents that specifically answer your series of questions related to maximum and minimum water tower height and fluctuations therein,” Snow wrote in response.
Because Snow said the town lacks documentation that would show recent water levels, it is not clear at what capacity the tower is currently running.
In November 2017, Leland’s manager David Hollis said the tower was operating with about 450,000 gallons in the tank — 60% of the tower’s storage capacity.
“The demand for the town’s water system is approximately 260,000 gallons per day, but the town over-built the water tank for future growth to a capacity of 750,000 gallons,” Hollis said in 2017.
When asked to provide an explanation for why some Leland residents were reporting pressure issues in May and June, (while comparatively, over the same time period, customers of Cape Fear Public Utility Authority were not), Snow answered by describing the town’s general arrangement with Brunswick County.
“Brunswick County provides all water in the Town of Leland, including the water the Town purchases as a wholesale customer of the County. We then are the service provider of water to Brunswick Forest with water purchased as a wholesale customer from the County. The water lines in Brunswick Forest were engineered and installed by the developer,” Snow wrote in an email.
Higher than anticipated
Hollis said in 2018 the cost of the booster pump project would be about $250,000. SEPI Engineering, in its July 2017 engineering proposal, estimated construction at the same cost.
In the town’s fiscal year 2018-2019 budget, the town budgeted an estimated $250,000 for the pump’s construction. These funds represent only the amount set aside for that fiscal year, Snow said, rather than the entire project. In January, Council approved a budget amendment, adding $240,678.80 to the booster pump project account, bringing the total project cost to $490,678.
Total funds allocated for the project so far include $462,238.80 for Wells Brothers Contracting (this includes a 20% contingency fee), $28,440.00 to Brunswick Electric, and $38,810.00 to SEPI Engineering.
“The Town did not under-budget or underestimate the cost of the booster pump project by half; it essentially set aside some funds needed for a project whose total cost was not known at that time,” Snow said.
After contracting with SEPI Engineering in July 2017 and putting the project out to bid in November 2018, the new pump will be operational by the end of the year, Snow said. Contractors are currently preparing the booster pump site, she said, so that when the pump is received in November, it can be promptly installed.
For residents with pressure issues or with infrastructure questions, Brooks asks them to directly reach out to the town.
“I will always encourage any citizen who has questions to contact staff directly. We will try our best to answer questions, but sometimes certain citizens simply are not satisfied with the answer or disagree,” he said. “That does not mean that staff is incorrect or that the citizen does not have a right to a difference of opinion. This give and take is all part of public service.”
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