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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Here’s how water costs increase on the way from the Cape Fear to the faucet

From the river to your faucet, the cost of water rises with every step along the way (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy SEPI Engineering)
From the river to your faucet, the cost of water rises with every step along the way. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy SEPI Engineering)

SOUTHEAST N.C. —  From infrastructure to move water to massive filtration centers to clean it, water is a big business with big expenses. So who decides that cost and what contributes to it?

In Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties, a bulk of the water provided to residents and businesses is drawn from the Cape Fear River. Over the years water providers have come and gone, contaminates have been discovered leading to the need for more advanced filtration systems, and in 1970 the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority (LCFWASA) was born.

Related: Here’s how water changes hands, up to three times, between the Cape Fear and the faucet

What was initially founded as the Wilmington-New Hanover County Water and Sewer Authority would soon become the regions primary provider of raw water to a five-county region; it would also become the first stop along the way when it comes to setting costs.

From the river to the faucet

The LCFWASA provides raw, untreated water in wholesale to its customers; for now, the cost of this raw water is $0.27 per 1,000 gallons. No water from LCFWASA is sold to retail customers as it is untreated water. (It is important to note that not all of the region’s drinking water comes from the river, there are also groundwater sources that water providers draw from and sell to their customers.)

In New Hanover County, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority treats the water and then distributes it to residential and commercial customers (it also sells bulk water to the Town of Wrightsville Beach).

But that treatment comes at a cost — first, CFPUA charges a ‘fixed-meter charge’ which starts at $27.56 bi-monthly for a 5/8-inch meter — the prices increase dramatically depending on the diameter of the supply.

After that base cost, CFPUA then charges $4.02 per 1,000 gallons, a 1,388 percent increase in cost from the raw water rate from LCFWASA.

Related: Summer Sale: CFPUA offers 80-percent-off bulk water rate for Wrightsville Beach

For bulk water rates, the authority generally charges $3.48 per 1,000 gallons but the Town of Wrightsville Beach is getting a significant discount only paying $.65 per 1,000 gallons.

In Brunswick County, there are a few extra steps — and extra costs — after LCFWASA get their $.27 per 1,000 gallons. The first stop for raw water in Brunswick County is with the county’s own utility services where the water is treated and ready to be distributed to customers.

Retail customers can expect to pay $2.85 per 1,000 gallons in Brunswick County along with the base fees. Wholesale rates are a little bit higher around $2.96 per 1,000 gallons in Brunswick.

But Brunswick County does not provide water services to the entirety of the county, in fact, in the more populated and rapidly growing northeastern region of the county both the Town of Leland as well as Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO get their water from Brunswick County and distribute it to their own customers. While these utilities have considered their own treatment plants they currently just distribute pre-treated water from the county.

Customers of H2GO will then pay $3.50 per 1,000 gallons of water used while Leland pays a penny less at $3.49 per 1,000 gallons.

In Pender County, the county provides water to six different districts.

“Pender County Utilities (PCU) serves as the management and administrative organization for the six (6) Water and Sewer Districts established to serve the residents of Pender County: Rocky Point/Topsail, Maple Hill, Scott’s Hill, Central Pender, Moore’s Creek and Columbia-Union,” according to the county website.

Rates per 1,000 gallons are by far the highest in the tri-county region ranging from $6-6.50 per 1,000 gallons — a 2,307% increase in cost from the raw water cost from LCFWASA.

As the push for clean water continues in the Cape Fear Region and more treatment facilities are proposed and constructed, the cost of water will not likely decrease anytime soon.

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