Quenching a thirst
Published 1:42 am Sunday, October 23, 2011
Beaufort County leaders are pondering the ways they can meet the growing demand for drinking water for many county residents.
In recent years, particularly in the past two years, drought and other environmental factors have caused a growing number of county residents to abandon their drinking-water wells and tap into the county’s drinking-water supply, said Curtis Jett, supervisor of the county’s water department.
“Up until the last two years, we haven’t had to think about it,” Jett said. “But the recent drought has put private wells out of business.”
The county has seen nearly a 16-percent increase in the number of its water customers since 2005, with 12,037 customers getting their water from the county in 2011 as compared with 10,394 customers in 2005, according to county figures.
Most of the increase has come from 1,177 new customers, or an increase of about 17 percent, on the north side of the Pamlico River in county districts that are supplied drinking water from Washington’s water plant.
That trend is continuing in 2012, county leaders said.
County Manager Randell K. Woodruff said the water-demand issue is significant for county leaders.
“Water is the most important service a local government supplies,” he said.
At least one county commissioner has said future growth in the county could be affected by the county’s ability to supply water to its customers.
Before the advent of county-supplied water, most residents living outside any of the county’s municipal areas got their water from private wells that accessed the region’s groundwater aquifers.
In response to growing development in the county’s rural areas, Beaufort County leaders decided about 20 years ago it was time to begin to supply water to residents living in rural areas of the county.
At that time, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners opted to divide the county into water districts and leave the option of county-supplied water up to the voters in those districts.
About that same time, Washington’s leaders were making plans to build a new water-treatment plant that tapped the region’s groundwater instead of relying on surface water for most of its water supply for many years.
As a result, the county and city entered into an agreement whereby the county would contribute about 28 percent of the cost of the construction of the city’s new water plant in exchange for the right to purchase, on average, about 1.647 million gallons of water per day from the city at a wholesale price, Jett said.
An increase demand from its growing customer base has caused county water usage to approach or top that amount in some months.
Five of the county’s water districts are located north of the river and receive their water from the city’s water plant located east of Washington and near Beaufort County Community College.
“We have gone over our peak capacity in times of drought during the past two years,” Jett said.
Two of the county’s water districts are located south of the river and receive their water from county-owned treatment plants located near Aurora and Chocowinity.
The treatment plant in Chocowinity is capable of producing more water and, with some upgrades, could help meet some of the growing demand north of the river, Jett said.
County leaders are beginning to consider alternatives that would address the growing demand for water, Woodruff said.
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners recently voted to apply for grant and loan funds that could be used to pay for increasing the capacity of the Chocowinity water plant and construction of a pipeline that would be capable of transferring up to 800 gallons of drinking water per minute to customers north of the river.
If approved, a combination of grants and loans from the Division of Water Resources’ Drinking Water State Revolving Fund would provide $1.495 million for upgrades to the water plant near Chocowinity and $3 million for pipes to transfer the water to districts north of the river.
The project would address concerns that county leaders have expressed about serving its customers from a single source — the city’s waster plant — that could be interrupted by a disaster.
“It is possible to tie into the treatment plant south of the river to back up the system on the north side of the river,” Jett said.
County leaders are considering other alternatives such as working with the city to increase the capacity of the city’s water plant to serve the growing number of county water customers north of the river.
Meanwhile, City Manager Josh Kay said he and city leaders have begun discussions to address the growing demand for water in the county.
Among the options are construction of additional wells at the city’s water plant and/or improvements in the existing plant the could increase the supply by as much as 2 million to 3 million gallons of water per day, he said.
“We certainly want to work with the county if they have increased capacity needs,” he said. “We have the ability to expand and we are open to discussion based on what the county decides.”
Service connections to the county’s drinking-water supply
The county has seen nearly a 16-percent increase in the number of its drinking water customers since 2005, with 12,037 customers getting their drinking water from the county in 2011 as compared with 10,394 customers in 2005, according to county figures.
Year Northern Districts Southern Districts Total Customers
2005 7,010 3,384 10,394
2008 7,888 3,766 11,654
2009 8,014 3,780 11,794
2010 8,060 3,813 11,873
2011 8,187 3,850 12,037
Source: Beaufort County government
Beaufort County 12-month water purchase from the City of Washington
Month Year Gallons per month Gallons per day
May 2011 42,990,152 1,386,779.10
April 2011 34,979,615 1,165,987.17
March 2011 33,296,289 1,074,073.84
February 2011 32,550,159 1,162,505.68
January 2011 36,204,571 1,167,889.39
December 2010 36,298,212 1,170,910.06
November 2010 37,341,928 1,244,730.93
October 2010 38,799,782 1,251,605.87
September 2010 38,370,835 1,279,027.83
August 2010 39,811,935 1,284,255.97
July 2010 45,234,422