BRUNSWICK COUNTY — It’s been 43 days since Brunswick County Utilities issued a Stage 1 Water Conservation Alert, asking its public water customers to voluntarily conserve water.
After the July Fourth holiday, conservation measures and much-needed rain helped ease off demands on the system. Still, the voluntary conservation alert remains in effect.
In May, system demands averaged at 76% of capacity, according to data provided by Brunswick County Utilities. Demands averaged at 92% of system capacity during the month of June, and so far over the first week of July, demand is averaging at 85% of capacity.
Water demands in May broke systemwide records. In Brunswick County, demand on the Saturday before July Fourth — at 94.5% capacity — just barely broke Brunswick County’s recent record-breaking day in May — at 94.4% capacity — peaking the Saturday before Memorial Day.
(Author’s note: Updated data courtesy of Brunswick County Utilities reflect subtracted recirculation flows that were previously unaccounted for, which slightly decrease final values compared to previously provided data)
Before this dry summer season, Brunswick County’s previous daily water demand record was July 10, 2015, at 87.46% of capacity.
Brunswick County maintains two water treatment plants: the 211 Water Treatment Plant, which has the capacity to treat 6 million gallons a day (mgd) of groundwater sourced from the Castle Hayne Aquifer; the Northwest Water Treatment Plant with the capacity to treat up to 24 mgd of raw water sourced from Lower Cape Fear Public Water and Sewer Authority.
Rain so far in July is finally slightly above normal values, according to the National Weather Service Wilmington. So far this month, the region has received 1.74 inches of rain. But still, the recent rainfall doesn’t change the 40% departure below average for the year.
“Rainfall always helps to reduce irrigation demand,” according to John Nichols, Brunswick County Utitlies director.
Nichols said on Monday through Wednesday before July Fourth, Brunswick County Utilities staff also identified customers that weren’t compliant with alert irrigation measures. The county called these customers, Nichols said, and requested compliance.
Utility staff also shared routine public reminders to conserve nonessential use with the press. “This is especially important due to the transient nature of many of the visitors to the area,” Nichols said. Brunswick County’s wholesale customers (H2GO, Leland, Southport, and others) also helped participate in the same messaging.
Demands are historically highest in July and August, according to Nichols. “This is due both to the elevated temperatures and the higher population during this time period,” he said.
Because rainfall is not constant, the possibility for peaks occurring in later July and August after the July Fourth is left open, Nichols said. Weather reports indicate rainfall could continue this upcoming weekend.
Demands moving ahead
A majority of Brunswick County remains classified as under a “moderate drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor service. A portion of southern Brunswick County is ranked lower by the organization, considered “abnormally dry.”
Peak water demand season runs from Memorial Day through Labor day, according to Nichols. He said he anticipates demands will begin falling off around September 3. “Sometimes there is a minor drop a week prior to that since many schools begin the last week in August,” Nichols said, noting this year, school starts on Aug. 26.
Brunswick County currently has water upgrade and expansion plans in place, but funding the $179.4 million overhaul is still being worked out. Before construction on the upgrade at Northwest Water Treatment Plant is expected to wrap up in December 2022, the county has three more high demand summers to get through.
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