Focused on a philosophy of raising water and sewer 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 closer to $300,000.
Owens said he would recommend a mix of increasing 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.
Since the meeting, Steve Dellies, assistant public works director, created three scenarios to increase water and sewer revenue, recommending the third scenario with targeted increases for all fees. The recommendation would increase revenue from fees by about $253,000 and revenues from usage by about $331,000. The two other scenarios are for flat rate percentage increases. The increases could raise an average customer’s bill by $20 or more per month.
As for infrastructure projects, like upgrading lift station No. 3, Owens said there are about $1.5 million short-term projects needed in the next four to five years.
Dellies listed lift station No. 3 on Iula Street 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.
Owens previously stated 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 nine years ago. The two discussed long term water storage options, 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 two 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 fine membrane so the salt does not pass through, often yielding 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. The town already has an interlocal agreement with CFPUA in the case of an emergency.
They also suggested having Spruill and Holley conduct a feasibility study for the other options.
Jim Flechtner, CFPUA executive director, will attend the board’s budget workshop Monday, May 12, at 5 p.m.