Tuesday, August 16, 2022

High chloride levels shake up water supply on Wrightsville Beach

Bacteria levels in areas of Wrightsville Beach are "elevated" according to the North Carolina Coastal Federation. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The situation has fueled a need for a bulk water purchase of 150 million gallons from CFPUA. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

[Update: On Thursday, the board of aldermen took issue with the rates associated with the proposed purchase of 150 million gallons of water from CFPUA, stating for the record they believed it was inappropriate for the water authority to charge a more expensive rate on the needed purchase compared to the previous agreement. The town plans to make an overture to CFPUA to ask for a cheaper price.]

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — With half of the wells on Wrightsville Beach yielding high chloride levels, town leaders are expected to vote Thursday night on a plan to purchase 150 million gallons of water from Cape Fear Public Utility Authority — roughly half-a-year’s worth — following the expiration of a previous deal with the water provider. 

An analysis of the water and sewer infrastructure on Wrightsville Beach done by McKim & Creed suggests around $2 million in improvements would be needed should Wrightsville Beach want to be fully serviced by CFPUA. Town manager Tim Owens has asked the board of aldermen to approve putting the town’s $815,000 in federal Covid-19 relief funds — received from the American Rescue Plan Act — toward these infrastructure upgrades, ready to go out for bid. 

In 2019, after GenX was discovered in Well 11, the town signed a stop-gap agreement with CFPUA for water supply at an “extremely reduced rate,” Owens said. “That was a three-year deal and ended sometime late last year.” 

In November of 2021, the town purchased an additional 10 million gallons of water, “to get us through the year,” Owens said, “but we’re in the new year, and getting closer and closer and closer to summertime every day.”

The reduced rate is no longer on the table for the bulk water purchase proposed this month, Owens said. It’s undetermined whether the town will eventually become a full customer of the utility authority. 

“That may happen down the line,” Owens said. “We’ve got some wells that are sort of compromised by chlorides, so now we just want to make sure that we’ve got a quality water supply and that’s why we’re purchasing water from CFPUA at this point. Otherwise, if our wells didn’t have higher chlorides, we wouldn’t be purchasing the water from Cape Fear.”

In the wells with normal chloride readings, the CFPUA water would be merged with the town’s, while the high-chloride wells would be taken out of commission to recover. 

Under the 2019 agreement, according to a CFPUA spokesperson, the authority was to provide up to 45 million gallons of water each year at the “short-term mutual aid bulk water rate of 65 cents per 1,000 gallons.” 

CFPUA’s regular bulk rate — which would be charged to Wrightsville Beach for the proposed purchase of 150 million gallons — is $3.48 per 1,000 gallons, according to the spokesperson. The estimated cost to purchase the 150 million gallons is $522,000, meaning full water service for the year from CFPUA would cost $1.04 million, according to the board of aldermen agenda.

The agenda also notes town staff were awaiting confirmation from CFPUA that “they can supply that amount and at the pressure that is needed.” On Wednesday, CFPUA confirmed to Wrightsville Beach it could handle the job, according to the authority spokesperson. 

“The water rate would have to be raised $1.305 per unit (750 gallons) or $1.74 per 1,000 gallons once we have converted in order to purchase 150 [million gallons] of water or half the water that the Town uses on a yearly basis,” according to the agenda. 

The board of aldermen will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in town hall, where they will vote on putting the needed infrastructure improvements out for bid, and on the 150 million gallon water purchase. The full agenda can be read here

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