As county leaders assess long-term solutions to supply more water to the increasingly congested Hampstead area, Pender County Utilities is looking to drill wells to satisfy more short-term needs.
PENDER COUNTY — While the county continues to assess long-term options for expanding water supply to an increasingly congested coastal region, officials will look to groundwater to satisfy more immediate needs.
This comes after a hot, dry summer that strained the county’s ability to supply the Hampstead area. One 12-inch pipe running along N.C. 210 supplies two water towers in the area, and after both ran dry over Memorial Day Weekend, the county implemented mandatory water restrictions in the area for more than 50 days.
Pender County Utilities (PCU) Director Kenny Keel said he is currently evaluating various sites in the Hampstead area to drill one to three wells that, once in operation, could add roughly half-a-million gallons a day to the system during times of peak demand. He estimated the Hampstead area currently uses around 800,000 to 900,000 gallons a day.
The Wilmington regional office of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will evaluate six or seven potential well sites for preliminary approval and viability, according to Keel. He said a drilling company will then perform exploratory actions to determine which sites could produce significant amounts of water.
Growing scarcity in the east
According to a county update released Tuesday, an additional 365 customer accounts, each with its own water meter, have been added across the county since March of 2018. Keel’s estimated average of 2.5 residents per meter means PCU’s current total of 9,087 meters equates to roughly 22,700 residents using county water.
More residents will be coming with the build-out of the new Salters Haven subdivision along Factory Road, which is currently planning to add more than 300 single-family homes to the Hampstead area. Kyle Breuer, the county’s planning director, said the subdivision intends to use PCU water.
On June 3, county commissioners approved a $169,000 study by a Raleigh engineering firm to assess distribution improvements and additional sources to expand water capacity to the county’s coastal region, where a vast majority of new development is taking place.
Engineer Reed Barton of CDM Smith said the scope of the project had shifted from countywide capacity to a growing scarcity in the east, where the “critical need to transmitting daily water is apparent.” He said the 12-inch pipe that supplies the region is the county’s main constraining factor.
His team is assessing two different infrastructure projects: a new water treatment plant in Hampstead versus a larger pipe that would run parallel to the current pipe supplying Hampstead.
Effects on regional supply
According to Keel, a long-term solution like a new plant or pipeline will take two to five years to implement. In the meantime, the county is further exploring interconnections with nearby counties and municipalities.
A temporary interconnection with Cape Fear Public Utilities Authority (CFPUA), which supplies residents of New Hanover County, has not yet been used “as we have been able [to] meet demand with our current supplies,” according to the county update.
“We are working on some additional requirements for full regulatory approval of the temporary connection, but it is available for emergency use if required,” the update states.
PCU is also seeking easements for an interconnection with Onslow County’s water system, as well as full regulatory approval for construction. An interconnection with Surf City’s water system was turned on during Memorial Day weekend, and although it supplies only 100,000 gallons a day to a limited area near Surf City, Keel said any eastern source helps significantly because “we don’t have to push all the way across the county.”
The county is also seeking to fill several positions: a maintenance technician for PCU’s water treatment plant, a field superintendent, and a utilities analyst position. Another position to lead a maintenance and repair crew will be filled in January, according to Keel.
During a June 3 meeting, Commissioner Jackie Newton pressed Keel on personnel issues that she said were affecting consumers downstream from the PCU plant near the Cape Fear River, including CFPUA and H2GO, Brunswick County’s water provider. She said the plant’s limited daytime schedule to fill up the tanks — and fill them at fast rates due to the N.C. 210 pipeline’s small size — was “affecting the flow of water that can be taken downstream on the Cape Fear in an adverse manner.”
Keel said the new positions are not intended to increase the plant’s overall operational capacity, but rather to extend its operational period. The plant’s current half-day schedule has added stress to the regional system.
Don Betz, head of regional supplier Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority (LCFWASA), said the plant’s daytime-only operations are problematic during times of high demand.
“When they’re trying to run at a very high rate of speed trying to get those tanks filled at only 10 hours [per day], that interferes with normal operations,” Betz said earlier this summer.
Voluntary conservation encouraged
As the summer’s drought-like conditions continue, Keel said he plans to keep voluntary water restrictions in place through Labor Day weekend.
“We need to remind folks that the water issues aren’t over,” Keel said. “We still need people to conserve as much as possible … I know people want their green lawns, but if they could minimize that as much as possible, it’d be helpful to ensure there’s sufficient water supply for everybody.”
He said the most significant conservation technique is for residents to curb irrigation usage, which has increased since mandatory restrictions were lifted July 11.
“Large amounts of irrigation usage can really add up on your water bill, and we had quite a bit of people with sticker shock … with the bills they got for the May period,” Keel said.
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com or (970) 413-3815