Planners Get Utilities Lesson
Operation of water and wastewater treatment systems is a multi-million dollar annual business in Moore County.
Details of these operations were shared with the Moore County Planning Board last week during a training session held prior to the board's regular June meeting.
County Public Works Director Dennis Brobst reviewed both the McGill water report and the program presented at a recent forum hosted by the Pinehurst Civic Group. Members of the planning panel asked for the special training at an earlier meeting, when they faced a series of zoning-related requests involving water and sewer systems.
Brobst reported that a budget request has been made to address some of the recommendations contained in the McGill water study. The study, which has been covered in a series of public meetings, was contracted by the county and local municipalities and was conducted by McGill & Associates, an engineering firm with an office in Pinehurst.
The comprehensive look at Moore County's water situation offers 14 short-term recommendations, including a partnership with the town of Robbins and examination of water purchases from neighboring counties. Moore County already buys water from Harnett County to serve East Moore Water District, a system now being extended to allow a connection with the Pinehurst segment of the county system.
Extension of water from Montgomery County along N.C. 211 to serve Seven Lakes is the first recommendation on the list. Second is a partnership between Moore County Public Utilities and Robbins to return the town's 1.5-million-gallon-a-day water plant to service. Again, in conjunction with Robbins, the third recommendation calls for extension of water service from Robbins to Seven Lakes. Robbins already has a water purchase contract with Montgomery County.
Brobst said it is unlikely the county can afford to accomplish all three of these right away but added that a budget request has been made this year to get started.
The fourth recommendation would extend water lines from Seven Lakes to Foxfire Village, again in conjunction with the Robbins system.
In theory, there is plenty of water to serve Moore County, but the McGill report explains the multiple problems encountered in trying to get water to areas needing water. The county has three resources: ground water, surface water and water purchased from other communities.
Ground water issues are numerous. Since 1997, 20 wells have been closed for a variety of reasons, such as low yields and radium contamination.
Brobst said the aquifer is sensitive to rainfall measurements -- both too little and too much -- and the large number of private irrigation wells has a serious impact on municipal wells. He estimated that 600 private irrigation wells are pumping from the same aquifer.
Despite these problems, ground water remains the most cost-effective source of water in Moore County. And it is not affected by stringent inter-basin transfer (IBT) regulations that complicate the transfer of water from one basin to another.
"They (IBT laws) have made it very difficult to transfer over two million gallons of water a day across basin lines," Brobst said.
Moore County lies within three basins, Deep River, Lumber River and Cape Fear. Portions of Seven Lakes, the largest unincorporated development in the county, are in all three basins.
As for surface water, the town of Southern Pines is permitted to draw eight million gallons daily from Drowning Creek, Carthage to draw one million gallons daily from Nicks Creek, and Robbins 1.5 million gallons from Bear Creek. Montgomery County has a six-million-gallons-a-day plant on Lake Tillery.
Moore County has purchased water from Southern Pines for a number of years and from Aberdeen in recent years.
The McGill study also suggests that Moore County consider other out-of-county resources, including Sanford for service to Cameron, along with monitoring the Laurinburg system.
Other recommendations cover such things as correcting a bottleneck in the Southern Pines system that limits flow to Pinehurst and an emergency interconnection with the town of Pinebluff from Southern Pines.
At the Pinehurst forum, members of the audience were advised of millions of dollars budgeted for everything from a water line around Pinewild to purchase of a vacuum/boom truck. Estimated cost to repair and rehabilitate sewer lines serving "old town" Pinehurst is $5.5 million.
Moore County Public Utilities has about 11,500 customers, with the largest number concentrated in Pinehurst.
Wasterwater Treatment Needs
As for the wastewater treatment plant, the timetable for expansion can be relaxed slightly because recent drought conditions have reduced capacity usage.
Nevertheless, expansion is inevitable as the county continues to grow and with increased rainfall.
"It's a wonderful facility," Brobst said, adding that the public does not understand the full significance of its value.
The plant, located in the rural Addor community in the southern part of the county, was constructed in the late 1970s to serve Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen. In recent years Pinebluff, Carthage and the U.S. Army's Camp Mackall have been added to its customer base.
If the schedule is followed, plans call for the $38 million expansion project to be completed in 2011.
Brobst reminded the Planning Board that the wastewater treatment system is not a retail operation. Billing is handled through municipalities and other wholesale customers, who pass the cost on to individual customers within their jurisdictions.
Rate increases are expected for both water and sewer customers within the next few years.
No report on water and sewer conditions goes without mention of conservation these days.
In July of last year, Brobst reported, 869 residential water customers consumed more than 20,000 gallons of water a day, but 674 customers used 21,160 gallons daily just for irrigation of yards and gardens. He said that one large subdivision comprising about 5 percent of the customer base was using about 20 percent of the water.
With drought conditions severe at the time and with mandatory water restrictions in force, the county system in short order reduced water usage to a point well within compliance with those mandatory requirements. However, many of the private irrigation wells, not subject to county regulations, remained in operation.
Water and wastewater treatment systems are operated as enterprise programs, which means that they are constructed and maintained for and by the customers served. Property tax funds are not used to meet operational or capital needs.
Funds to meet capital needs must come from user fees. If loans are needed, then it is the customer base that must pay off those loans, with interest, from user fees.
To address some of these needs, the county manager has included in the 2008-2009 budget proposal a recommendation that funds be set aside as capital reserve -- $2,797,977 for Moore County Public Utilities and $954,847 for the wastewater treatment plant.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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