ONLINE UPDATE: Beach water rates may increase to cover costs

by Kelly Corbett
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Focused on a philosophy of raising water rates to cover operating costs while using reserves to fund larger infrastructure projects, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen is discussing short and long-term options for town water needs.

There is currently a $257,463 shortfall in water and sewer, which Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens estimated will likely end up at about $300,000.

Owens said he would recommend a mix of increasing the flat and usage rates during the future water and sewer infrastructure needs workshop Wednesday, April 30.

“We’ve got the lowest water rates around,” Alderwoman Lisa Weeks said.

Recommended water and sewer rate increases of 5 percent could generate up to an additional $471,000 in revenue.

As for infrastructure projects, like upgrading lift station No. 3, Owens said there is about $1.5 million short-term projects needed in the next 4-5 years.

Steve Dellies, assistant public works director, listed lift station No. 3 and replacing waterlines on Henderson, Oxford and Greensboro streets and Nathan and Sunset streets as priorities. The three projects would total $360,000.

Owens said he would prefer to start the process for upgrading lift station No. 3 before July, taking money from reserves to cover the cost. The item will likely be on May’s board meeting agenda.

Owens has said before the town is producing about as much water as it can sell on peak days and the system has been neglected over the years.

“There’s also some looming, outstanding projects we need to do,” Owens said, referring to the $15.9 million Southside Water Treatment Plant project.

About $3.7 million is set aside for the treatment plant, but that money could be used for other projects.

Earlier in the workshop, the board heard presentations from Dr. Richard Spruill, founder of Groundwater Management Associates, Inc., and Jay Holley, hydrogeologist of GMA.

They referred to a study from 2005, saying many of the wells’ yields have remained similar to where they were 9 years ago. The two discussed water storage options for the long term, including aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) and reverse osmosis (RO) or desalination.

ASR requires a source of water, and Spruill estimated the process would take about 2 years to complete.

“It’s a management tool that allows us to store water underground if we can find a source of water,” Spruill said.

With desalination, water is pushed through a membrane so the salt does not pass through, and often yields 7.5 gallons of fresh water for every 10 gallons of water.

Spruill recommended Vukelich to evaluate using well No. 2 to pump water from the north end to the south end of the island through the existing pipeline, since well No. 2 is capable of the highest production.

“That’s something that we think you ought to consider,” Spruill said. “My greatest fear is that well would go salty with overutilization. The whole concept is proper management and lots of water chemistry.”

Board members requested to hear from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority during a future meeting about what it would mean if the town became a customer as far as rates and projects. They also suggested having Spruill and Holley conduct a feasibility study for the other options.

“We could turn a valve and become a customer immediately, but do we want to do that?” asked Mike Vukelich, public work director.

The town already has an interlocal agreement with CFPUA in the case of an emergency.

The full story will be printed Thursday, May 8.

email kelly@luminanews.com

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