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.
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.http://chapelboro.com/news/traffic/water-main-break-diverts-traffic-chapel-hill/
Sludge, or biosolids as they’re known in the industry, is what is left over when municipal wastewater is treated and reclaimed. For years OWASA has been recycling biosolids into fertilizer.
The liquid sludge goes through a high-temperature anerobic digestion process at the Mason Farm wastewater treatment plant, then gets sprayed onto 1,000 acres of farmland in Orange, Chatham and Alamance counties.
But this process has come under scrutiny from public health officials, environmental activists and those living near the spray sites.
Now, OWASA officials are investigating the feasibility of drying all biosolids and selling them to McGill Environmental Systems in Chatham County to use as compost.
Administrators say switching to the composting process will minimize nuisances such as odors and noise for residents near the spray sites. They also note drying the biosolids will require less fuel to haul than the liquid, and reduce the chance of a spill during transit or application.
If approved, the switch is estimated to save $100,000 in maintenance and operating costs each year.
The OWASA board will discuss the plan at its January 8 meeting. You can read the full report on biosolid disposal here.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/owasa-examines-compost-alternative-sludge-spray/
Officials from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority are temporarily shutting down service on South Graham Street to repair a water main leak.
Currently, six houses and one fire hydrant are without water. It’s not clear how long it will take workers to repair the line and restore service, but in general, water main repairs take up to six hours to complete.
We’ll have more on this throughout the day.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/water-main-leak-shuts-off-owasa-service-south-graham-st/
The Orange Water and Sewer Authority will close two northbound lanes of South Columbia Street near the Carolina Inn and Peabody Hall, starting Friday through September 16.
The lane closures will allow contractors to replace a valve on a deep underground water line.
OWASA announced that the work will be performed during daytime and night hours, including this weekend.
One lane will remain open to vehicles, as well as access to the Peabody parking lot.
Water service to UNC’s Sitterson, Brooks, and Chapman buildings will be interrupted on Saturday, and a sidewalk next to the work site will temporarily be closed.
Should work be delayed due to weather conditions, it will be rescheduled to begin Friday, September 19.
For more information, contact OWASA Utilities Engineer Vishnu Gangadharan at firstname.lastname@example.org://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/lane-closures-announced-s-columbia-street/
12:30 p.m. update: The water main has been repaired, however the road will remain closed a little while longer.
According to the Chapel Hill Fire Department’s public information officer, Lisa Edwards, North Columbia Street from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to Stephens Street remains closed to allow for replacement of the asphalt damaged during the repair. She says its expected to remain closed through the afternoon.
Story originally posted September 10, 2014, 6:16 a.m.
Crews have been working through the night to repair a water main break at North Columbia and Carr streets near Chapel Hill Town Hall.
N. Columbia is closed between Stephens Street and the merge with Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The line broke right around the intersection with Carr St.
Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) crews are working to repair the line. In the meantime, the utility is providing bottled water to the approximately ten homes that are without the service at this time. Emergency crews still have access to the affected area if necessary through other roads that remain open.
The break was reported at around 7:25 p.m. Tuesday night.http://chapelboro.com/news/traffic/water-main-breaks-n-columbia-carr-streets/
The water tank near Hillsborough and Old Fayetteville roads in Carrboro will be inspected and cleaned beginning Thursday, as part of regular maintenance.
That’s according to an announcement from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority.
OWASA has hired a contractor to perform the work, which is expected to take two or three days, weather permitting.
Preparation begins Monday, as OWASA begins draining the tank.
An additive will be used to neutralize the disinfectant “chloramines,” a compound of chlorine and ammonia in OWASA water, so that fish and amphibians won’t be harmed.
After cleaning, the tank will be disinfected, and water samples will be tested before the tank is put back to use.
According to OWASA, water pressure to customers will not be affected during the process.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/owasa-cleans-inspects-carrboro-water-tank/
It may be hot and dry this summer, but Orange County is certainly not yet experiencing a drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor and North Carolina Drought Monitoring Council.
Orange County is now listed as being in an “abnormally dry condition”, which is the first stage of a drought, by North Carolina classification.
The Sustainability Manager at Orange Water and Sewer Authority, Pat Davis says this hot and dry period has just come on in the past few weeks and that the Drought Monitoring Council did not have Orange County in any sort of drought stage until just recently.
According to Davis in the month of June, OWASA’s Water Treatment Plant only received 1.23 inches of rainfall, the lowest seen in the month since 1993. June also recorded its fourth lowest amount of rainfall at the Cane Creek Reservoir with 1.5 inches.
“So, is June an indicator of July, August, September, October, November, and December?” Davis asks. “Only time will tell, right? We see rainfall flip around pretty frequently from month to month. But if we see July and August well below normal, then that may be the sign that we’re headed into a condition that increases our potential drought risk.”
Davis says water reservoirs are still at almost 91 percent of their storage capacity, due to a “well above normal” amount of rainfall in May and over the last twelve months.
In reference to Orange County’s last drought in 2008, Davis says residents do not have to worry about water conservation just yet, and that OWASA will be monitoring conditions well into the fall before they are alerted of any significant drop in water reservoirs.
Director of Horticulture at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, Jim Ward, says even though he has recently had to show extra care to the garden’s plants, he has battled with far worse conditions of high temperatures and low rain in his 35 years at the gardens than what he is seeing now.
“It is causing us to put a lot more time into the watering needs of the plants,” Ward says. “At the Botanical Gardens, we use captured rain water as our primary source for irrigation and we have a well for another part of our garden. We’re needing to tap into those more frequently and for a longer period of time.”
Ward has combated the dry spell and conserved water in the garden by aiming the water at the ground instead of the plants’ leaves. He advises plant owners to do the same and offers more advice to folks trying to preserve their plants during the hot streak.
“Help yourself out by planting the right plant in the right place so that it’s matching the plant’s growing conditions to the specific site you have in mind so you aren’t planting a plant that requires a lot of moisture to be healthy in a dry site. Mulching helps you conserve the moisture that’s in the soil so we encourage you to do that. And plant in the fall, you shouldn’t be out there planting new plants in this kind of condition so wait until the fall; it’s the best time of year.”http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/orange-county-abnormally-dry-period/
A plan to close Ridge Road traffic in both lanes between Manning Drive and the Rams Head Parking Deck for a water line replacement project has been canceled, thanks to a contractor who resolved a technical issue.
Orange Water and Sewer Authority had recently announced that both lanes would be closed to through traffic.
But as that is no longer necessary, the contractor will continue to close only one lane in patches between Manning Drive and Boshamer Stadium until the water-line work is completed in mid-August.
Chapel Hill Transit will continue to operate on regular routes through the area, although you can expect some delays. NextBus schedules will also be affected.http://chapelboro.com/news/traffic/owasa-ridge-road-traffic-will-continue-flow-water-line-work/
The Orange Water and Sewer Authority is being honored by North Carolina for its high quality drinking water.
OWASA was one of 38 systems to receive the 2013 North Carolina Area Wide Optimization Award from the state Division of Water Resources’ Public Water Supply section.
Sarah Young is the public information officer for the state Division of Water Resources. She says the award recognizes efforts to enhance the performance of water treatment systems.
“All public water supply systems have to meet very stringent requirements, but these systems met even greater requirements,” says Young.
OWASA won the award due to efforts to reduce cloudiness in the water, also known as turbidity.
Kenneth Loflin, OWASA’s water supply and treatment manager, says the lower level of turbidity makes water safer for consumers.
“You are limiting any opportunity for any type of giardia or bacteria that pass through your filters and get into the system, so it lowers your disinfection by-products and you’re removing more organics from the water,” says Loflin. “It’s an all around safer product.”
This isn’t the first time the utility has been recognized for its clean water-OWASA also received the award in 2010 and 2012.http://chapelboro.com/news/health/owasa-wins-state-award-clean-water/