Town considers pricey upgrades to improve water quality

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Wrightsville Beach needs better quality drinking water, but the solution won’t be cheap.

“We need to make a commitment to fix this once and for all, and not halfway,” Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said after hearing several proposals for the future of the town’s water system, all of which will lead to a rate increase.

For the past year, an ad hoc committee has been working with hydrogeologic engineering consulting firm Groundwater Management Associates (GMA) to determine how to improve the quality of the town’s drinking water. The committee met with the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, Aug. 25, to discuss the options.

Quality, not quantity, is the pressing issue. The system can produce enough water to meet the town’s needs, but a few of the wells have levels of chloride close to the legal limit for drinking water, and one well exceeds the limit, GMA found.

Saltwater intrusions also contributed to the contamination warnings the town received from the Environmental Protection Agency in late 2014 and early 2015, GMA hydrogeologist James Holley said.

The town received the warnings for elevated levels of trihalomethanes, a byproduct formed when organic compounds in the town’s source water, the Peedee aquifer, mix with the disinfecting agent chlorine.

Blair said further discussion and more details are needed before he and his board can narrow down the potential solutions, because whatever upgrade is agreed upon will be expensive and lead to higher water bills for residents. Currently, the town’s rates are lower than Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.

“I don’t want to have a rate increase, but I recognize that in order to have better water we’re going to have to pay more,” ad hoc committee member Jim Smith said.

The town could choose to simply turn its water system over to CFPUA, Holley said. If it continues to manage its own system it must first repair or replace failing pipes. Then, it has several options to improve the water quality long term.

Aquifer storage and recovery, or ASR, involves purchasing large quantities of pretreated water from CPFUA and injecting the water into the aquifer. The town could buy water during the offseason at a lower rate to sell during the summer at a higher rate, making that choice more cost effective.

The town could also employ reverse osmosis techniques, which would involve filtering water through a semipermeable membrane to reduce chloride and other compounds compromising water quality.

Town manager Tim Owens said Wrightsville Beach should move ahead on short-term fixes like drawing less water from wells with high chloride levels and increasing the yield of other wells to compensate.

In the meantime, town officials will meet with CFPUA representatives to determine how much it would charge for water. With those final details, town staff can perform a water rate study to help decide the best option.

email emmy@luminanews.com

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