Leaking Water Pipe Closes Portion of Rosemary Street

****UPDATE: The road has been reopened and water services has been restored.****

A water leak has shut down a portion of Rosemary Street on Monday afternoon.

A release says a crew is working to repair a leaking water pipe on East Rosemary near Spring Lane, which has closed Rosemary Street in the area.

The water leak is about 60 feet west of where the contractor repaired a broken water pipe on April 12, according to officials.

The repair is expected to take several hours and OWASA has interrupted water service for customers along Spring Lane.


Concerns Over Fiber Installation

Residents of Chapel Hill have been experiencing issues, like breaks in water lines, as a result of fiber installation.

AT&T and Google are both working to install fiber optic cable in Chapel Hill. The new cable infrastructure will allow for gigabit internet service at 100 times the speed of standard broadband. Chapel Hill is one of a handful of towns in the country to have two high speed internet providers.

AT&T has been installing fiber cable in Chapel Hill since late 2014. Google began installation last week.

In an email to the town council, council member Ed Harrison said that OWASA lines had been cut 6 times since July 2015 due to fiber installation, including a recent water line break on Pope Road.

Multiple media outlets have reported issues with fiber installation around the triangle.

According to Ross Tompkins, assistant to the town manager for administrative and program management in Chapel Hill, crews have been working to install Google Fiber on Estes Drive near the library and on Highway 54 near the Meadowmont neighborhood. A timeline for when the service will be available has not yet been announced.

In a release, the town said that while utility crews are allowed to work as long as they remain in the right of way, they are expected to clean up any mess. If you have any concerns regarding fiber cable installation you can notify the town.


Fiber Installation Damages Water Line

Service has been restored after a contractor working to install fiber knocked water out to 18 meters and five fire hydrants on Tuesday.

A notice saying the repair work had been completed was sent out just after 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon after an estimated four-hour interruption at Pope Road just past the Newton Drive intersection.

An official with the Durham Sheriff’s Office says deputies responded to a call from Ansco & Associates alleging that workers with New Technologies had damaged the water main.

AT&T confirmed in a statement to WCHL that one of the company’s contractors broke a water line while working to expand the new fiber network in Chapel Hill. AT&T apologized for the inconvenience.

Fiber installation has been occurring in the Triangle with AT&T and Google working to bring gigabit internet service to the area.

The Motessori Community School was impacted by the outage as well. A message on the school’s facebook page said that the school was forced to close for the day due to the damage.

A notice from OWASA says a paving contractor has been scheduled to install the finish layer of asphalt.

No citation was issued, according to law enforcement, but a report of damage was recorded.


OWASA Plans $6 Million Upgrade to Water Meters

The Orange Water and Sewage Authority is considering a $6 million update to their water meters.

An Advance Metering Infrastructure system would involve installing a small radio transmitter on each meter to allow OWASA to collect the readings digitally.

Todd Taylor is the general manager of operations at OWASA.

“AMI is a system that collects these meter readings remotely through radio transmissions, which eliminates the need for someone to drive or walk the community to collect this information monthly, as we do now,” said Taylor.

Currently, about two-thirds of the over 21,000 meters in Chapel Hill and Carrboro have to be checked in person. The rest use an automatic meter system that can be checked when employees drive by.

Taylor said one of the benefits would be the ability to detect water leaks earlier.

“Our staff would have access to these hourly reads and be able to proactively let customers know when water use patterns change,” said Taylor.

Taylor said the system would also eliminate the chance for human error in reading the meters.

The majority of the public comments that OWASA has received so far are in support of the project.

But some voiced concerns that OWASA employees could be laid off or that the cost of the new system would get passed on to customers.

Taylor addressed both of those concerns saying that no one would be laid off due to the new system.

He also said rates would not increase because the AMI system would help offset its cost by avoiding further investment in the manual system and reducing employee inefficiency.

OWASA customers would also have more information about their water usage habits.

“Another benefit to AMI would be that customers would have access to this data, therefore they will have insights into how they use water in their own home, which will allow them to conserve water and also save money,” said Taylor.

You can share your opinion with OWASA by emailing info@owasa.org

On March 24, the OWASA Board of Directors will vote on whether to purchase the AMI system.


OWASA Customers Will Taste Chlorine In Water

In March and early-April, OWASA customers will notice a chlorine taste and smell in their drinking water.

During this period, OWASA will use chlorine instead of chloramines to disinfect drinking water, in accord with recommendations from the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

OWASA uses chlorine for disinfection one month per year to ensure a high level of disinfection in the water system.

It is a stronger disinfectant than chloramines and with that comes a stronger taste and odor.

OWASA released a list of a few things you can do to remove or neutralize the chlorine in your water:

  • Add a few lemon slices to a pitcher of water. The lemon has ascorbic acid, which neutralizes chlorine.
  • Let water sit for a day or so. OWASA suggests keeping the water in an open container in a refrigerator.
  • Boil the water for one minute to evaporate the chlorine.
  • Filter the water with activated carbon. Water pitchers with activated carbon filters are sold locally.

As part of this process, OWASA will be releasing water from fire hydrants in some areas, which may cause discolored drinking water.

Do not drink or wash clothes with this water, instead run cold water through a spigot or faucet for five to 10 minutes. If it does not clear up after that, call OWASA at 919-968-4421.


Donate At The OWASA Blood Drive This Tuesday

The Orange County Water and Sewer Authority and the American Red Cross are holding a blood drive on Tuesday. The blood drive will be held from 10-2:30 at the OWASA building at 400 Jones Ferry Road in Carrboro.

Donors must be in good health, have a photo idea and must be 17 years old (16 year-olds can donate with parental consent). All donors will receive a free t-shirt.

Blood donations are needed for transfusions to trauma patients, premature babies and patients with cancer, blood disorders and other illnesses.

“Severe winter weather since January 1 has forced the cancellation of more than 300 blood drives, resulting in more than 9,500 donations uncollected, further depleting an already low winter supply,” said Ryan Corcoran, Donor Recruitment Director for the Carolinas Blood Services Region, in a press release.

Walks-ins are welcome or you can set up an appointment.

OWASA will also hold blood drives on April 26 and June 23.


OWASA Work Closes Portion of MLK Blvd

Portions of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will be closed during the day on Wednesday due to OWASA repairs.

Officials say the outer northbound lane, center turn lane and inner southbound lane will be closed from nine o’clock Wednesday morning until four o’clock in the afternoon due to work on the water system.

The closure will occur south of Hillsborough Street and Umstead Drive.

One lane in each direction will remain open during the repairs, according to a release.

Chapel Hill Transit says this work will force the closure of the bus stop near the Root Cellar Café. Residents using that bus are asked to use a temporary bus stop that will be located near the Bolin Creek Trail entrance on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.


OWASA Hosting Blood Drive Tuesday

OWASA and the American Red Cross are holding a blood drive from 10 o’clock until 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.

The blood drive will be held in the community room on the lower floor of the OWASA administration building at 400 Jones Ferry Road, Carrboro.

Ryan Corcoran is the donor recruitment director for the Carolinas Blood Services Region. He says blood donations tend to decline around the holidays.

“But patients don’t get a holiday from needing blood. The Red Cross encourages the community to come forward with OWASA to give the gift of life.”

Donors must be in general good health, have photo identification, weigh at least 110 pounds and be 17 years old. 16 year olds may participate with parental consent. All donors under 18 must meet height and weight requirements.

Walk-ins are welcome after noon. For appointment information visit the Red Cross website.


Water Conservation Suits Us

By John Young, Chair of Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors:

Have you seen the wave of headlines about the water crisis in California? Of course you have. I sympathize with the communities and agencies that must confront the grim situation and create the solutions for it. This won’t get solved overnight, but let’s hope for some relief sooner rather than later.

At the same time, I am thankful the water situation in our community is not making headlines. Our local water supplies are in excellent shape. In fact, the reservoirs are 95% full today.

What’s the secret sauce? Water conservation. Your water conservation.

If you’ve lived here since 1991, you couldn’t have missed the new homes, buildings, and cars in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The number of customers OWASA serves has grown more than 65% in these 24 years.

For the first eight years of that stretch, our community’s water consumption closely tracked the growth in OWASA customers. Then, in 2000, the consumption pattern took a sharp turn: more and more customers, yet less and less consumption.

Today, our community is consuming less total water than we consumed in 1991. Amazing! Talk about #FlashbackFriday!

This is a headline that deserves to stand next to the headlines about California. Let’s give a big shout-out to community members like you for their steady commitment to conservation. On average, each customer is consuming 40% less than they did in 1991. This stretches our water resources so we can more easily cope with stressful water conditions.

We also use less energy to run our pumps and less chemicals to treat our water and wastewater. The planet and I thank you, again.

Rate increases are part of the headlines in California, too. Why do rate increases go hand-in-hand with drought restrictions and conservation?

Think of those miles of pipe in the ground upon which you rely and which must stay in good condition. Water utilities have very high fixed costs. Inevitably, lower consumption leads to revenue gaps, which in turn leads to pressure to increase rates per gallon.

The headlines in California tell us to expect double-digit percentage rate increases there. Some customers complain that they are asked to conserve and then penalized for doing so.

In my opinion, however, the headlines and stories about rates often mislead us.

You see, if the community conserves more, OWASA’s and other utilities’ total costs don’t go up because of it. They actually go down slightly. For example, we use less energy to run our pumps and less chemicals to treat our water and wastewater. This means we don’t need to collect more revenue in total to support conservation. Average bills don’t need to go up because of conservation. Conservation is a win for our collective budgets, a win for drought resiliency, and a win for the planet.

Somewhere in history, most of the world decided that water should be priced as an ordinary commodity, by the gallon. Imagine instead if the world had decided to look at water as a service, rather than a widget. I encourage you to look at water as a service and consider what your final monthly bill looks like for access to high-quality water in the amounts you need.

But, yes indeed, with fewer gallons consumed, the rate per gallon often goes up. And, unfortunately, if your household doesn’t or can’t keep pace with conservation of the community, your monthly bill might be one that goes up while others see steady or even lower bills. If you are looking for ideas about conservation and reducing your monthly bill, I encourage you to turn to the team at OWASA or the website for conservation ideas and best practices.

(Hmm, in case you are wondering, I am not trying to justify rate increases so that OWASA can sneak more money into the pockets of shareholders. OWASA doesn’t have shareholders. OWASA is a publicly owned utility. We work for this community. Because OWASA does not receive subsidies from tax dollars, our revenue from bills must match our costs.)

Fortunately for OWASA customers, we’ve been able to avoid increases in monthly rates for 4 years running. Because of your conservation, we are also able to push out the time horizon for new investments water treatment facilities, wastewater treatment facilities, and reservoirs. And that will help keep your bills lower for the long term.



Water Main Break Diverts Traffic in Chapel Hill

UPDATE: The water main was repaired and operating normally early Wednesday afternoon, according to OWASA.

OWASA crews were working on a water main break Wednesday morning, according to Chapel Hill officials. The break closed McMasters Street and diverted traffic away from McMasters and Church Street.

As of last update, there was no estimated time when the road will be reopened.