Orange County in “Abnormally Dry” Period

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/

OWASA: Ridge Road Traffic Will Continue to Flow During Water Line Work

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/

OWASA Wins State Award For Clean Water

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/

OWASA Reports Untreated Wastewater Spill In Chapel Hill

OWASA officials say Thursday’s strong rains triggered an overflow of untreated wastewater from a manhole near Brigham Road in Chapel Hill.

About 13,500 gallons were spilled from 8:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. Once waters receded, OWASA workers cleaned and disinfected the area.

OWASA in is the process of designing a new, larger sewer line in the area to to increase capacity. That project is estimated to cost $840,000. Construction will start in late fall.

You can find out more here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/owasa-reports-untreated-wastewater-spill-chapel-hill/

OWASA to Begin Evening Road Work on South Estes Drive

Contractors for Orange Water and Sewer Authority will begin night work to replace underground water pipes on South Estes, Willow, and Conner Drives beginning Monday, May 19.

The work is scheduled between the night hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., from Sunday through early Friday.

The first phase will take place at the intersection of Estes Drive and Franklin Street. Workers will occupy the center lane of Estes, and maintain two-way traffic.

Over the next few months, work will proceed east from there, in sections of between 50 and 100 feet.

The project is expected to be completed by the fall, weather permitting.

For a complete description of the project, click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/traffic/owasa-road-work/

Lessons Learned From Dan River Coal Ash Spill

As we continue to follow the repercussions from the Dan River coal ash spill, one of the largest in U.S. history, the more than 80,000 OWASA users in our area can be thankful that the water they drink is not supplied by the Dan River or any of its estuaries.

Alan Rimer, Chair of the OWASA Board of Directors, explained that the non-profit agency serving Chapel Hill and Carrboro draws water from three local supplies: the Cane Creek Reservoir, University Lake and the Quarry Reservoir west of Carrboro.

“We are also fortunate in that we do not have any coal ash storage ponds in our watershed. The only power plant we have is the one on UNC’s campus, which handles their ash, or what ash they used to have, in a totally different manner. It was shipped off-site. So, we are protected all the way around,” Rimer said.

The spill happened on February 2 at a former Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina, when millions of gallons of coal ash and waste water were leaked.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR] alerted Duke Energy that it was considering changes to its waste water permits for coal ash ponds.

Rimer said that though the coal ash spill does not impact Orange County, there are still lessons to be learned.

In January, thousands of gallons of chemicals contaminated the water supply in Charleston, West Virginia.

Both of these situations, Rimer explained, show the necessity of maintaining properly-working storage outside of chemical tanks in the case of spills.

“If a municipality does not require chemicals that are stored, which could somehow how get into the watershed are properly protected, then you have got a real problem,” he said.

Chemical storage facilities in Orange County comply with federally-mandated regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is enforced by DENR.

“While we do not have a coal ash pile, we do have chemicals that are not dissimilar in their potential to impact our watershed. We look after those very carefully in the county.”

In a WCHL commentary in January, Rimer explained that through the cooperation of local governments, the density and impact of development in our local watersheds are limited by some of the most stringent watershed zoning, streamside buffer requirements, and impervious surface limits in the state. These standards, he said, help to reduce the likelihood of contaminants from reaching area reservoirs.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-news/lessons-learned-dan-river-coal-ash-spill/

OWASA Protected From N. Chatham Water Woes

UPDATE: Chatham County has cancelled the boil advisory, confirming that no leak occurred. Here is the county’s full statement, released at 3:04 p.m. Thursday:

“Chatham County Water Utilities has announced that residents in sections of North Chatham no longer have to boil county water before using it for consumption.  The State Division of Water Quality has verified that the water supply meets state standards and does not have to be boiled.
 
A boil water notice was issued yesterday due to an unexpected drop in water pressure affecting specific parts of north Chatham.  Utilities staff found no leaks or technical problems in the water system, but water pressure returned to normal levels.  This  points to the possibility that a private contractor doing utility work in the area may have impacted a water valve.”

Chatham County Public works director David Hughes says Wednesday’s advisory to residents in northern Chatham County was strickly precautionary and that he doesn’t believe there was every a break in the line.

“We don’t believe it was a break,” Huges says. “We suspect it was a contractor who closed some valves and shut off supply, so there was never a break in the line. Our tanks never dropped. We didn’t do anything particular, and the system regained pressure and went back to normal operating. So, the potential for contamination is very low. It’s possible but unlikely.”

Hughes says any time there is a drop in water pressure, water samples are taken to check for contaminants and safety measures are taken ensure no one consumes what is potentially hazardous.

While it takes just a few minutes more, he says the best course of action is to follow the safety instructions when they’re handed our—even when danger is not suspected and it’s just a precautionary step.

“They should boil the water for a minute to two minutes until we get the results back,” Hughes says.

In Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) Board of Directors Chair, Alan Rimer says there are processes in place to protect from such an event.

“We have a number of storage tanks that contain several million gallons of water, and those tanks are managed by…a system of intercommunication between the treatment plant and these tanks,” Rimer says. “So, we can control the rate at which that water is put into the system at a pressure which would never allow for it to drop below a particular pressure level that would require a boil order.”

In fact, Rimer says it could be up to a day before the water system’s pressure drops below a safe level.

“We might ask folks to conserve, but certainly not to boil,” Rimer says.

http://chapelboro.com/news/health/owasa-protected-n-chatham-water-woes/

Carrboro BoA Preview: Land Use Ordinance Gets Another Look

The Feb. 25 meeting of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will be taken up, mostly, by discussion of proposed additions to the town’s Land Use Ordinance.

The Board will consider amending a section of the Ordinance to clarify which utility work activities are allowed or exempt in water quality buffers.

It’s been the subject of an ongoing discussion between the Planning Board and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority.

At issue is how best to protect trees and water quality, while giving workers the utility line access they need to conduct inspections and make repairs in buffers and along creeks.

Another proposed ordinance would clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Environmental Advisory Board in working with Aldermen on matters regarding conservation and protections.

EAB members are appointed by the Board of Aldermen.

There’s a proposal to add language to another section of the Land Use Ordinance regarding development projects that entail more than 1,000 square feet of new building in downtown commercial areas, or more than 20,000 square feet of disturbance.

Proposed language in the ordinance mandates that businesses and residents in surrounding neighborhoods have the opportunity to address the impact of big construction projects.

Such impacts include employee parking, storage of hazardous materials, and roads and entrances used by construction vehicles.

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall at 301 West Main Street.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/carrboro-boa-preview-land-use-ordinance-gets-another-look/

This Week In Orange County! (Weather Permitting.)

**UPDATE: The OWASA Board meeting scheduled for Thursday night (see below) has been cancelled. The Board will accept public comment on their Draft Strategic Plan at their meeting Thursday, February 27. (To read the plan, again, see below.)

ORANGE COUNTY – UNC will test its emergency sirens today, Tuesday, February 11, between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m.

The test was originally set to take place in late January, but got postponed because of the snow that hit the area.

You’ll hear the sirens if you’re on campus, downtown, or near the Friday Center or Carolina North. The purpose is to test the Alert Carolina system; UNC will also send a text message to about 50,000 cell phones registered by students, faculty and staff.

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Carrboro town manager David Andrews has named Carol Anderson Dorsey as the town’s new human resources director. Dorsey has spent the last five years as human resources director for the city of Oxford, NC; her prior jobs included serving as director of human resources for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA.

A total of 85 candidates applied for the position, representing 16 different states.

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The Orange Community Players will open their 2014 season in February with “Steel Magnolias,” the acclaimed story of six very different Southern women whose tight friendship carries them through joys and tragedies.

“Steel Magnolias” runs from February 13-16 at the Central Orange Senior Center in Hillsborough. You can purchase tickets at the Senior Center, or online at OCPNC.com.

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The OWASA Board is inviting you to come ask questions and comment on their Draft Strategic Plan at a meeting on Thursday, February 13, at 7:00 p.m. in the OWASA Building on Jones Ferry Road.

You can also send your comments and questions via email or by letter or fax. Send an e-mail to boardmembers@owasa.org; send a letter to 400 Jones Ferry Road, Carrboro, NC 27510; or send a fax to 919-968-4464.

Click here to read the draft strategic plan.

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Chapel Hill town government is moving out of Town Hall! (Part of it, at least.)

Renovations are about to begin at Town Hall, to repair the damage from last year’s flood and make some other layout changes to improve customer service. In the meantime, the mayor’s office has moved to the Chapel Hill Public Library, along with the office of the town manager and seven other Town staffers.

Everyone will move back into Town Hall when the renovations are finished. Town Council chambers are expected to reopen in September; other building areas will be addressed in phases after that.

Other town officials who are temporarily moving to the library: mayoral aide Mark McCurry, Assistant to the Town Manager Jason Damweber, Policy and Strategic Initiatives director Mary Jane Nirdlinger, Sustainability Officer John Richardson, Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett, Organizational Effectiveness Coordinator Rae Buckley, and Administrative Assistant Peggy Paumer.

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This weekend, the campus organization VDAY Carolina is staging a bilingual production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” to benefit the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.

Shows run from Friday, February 14, through Sunday, February 16 at Hanes Auditorium, with two shows each on Friday and Saturday–one in English and one in Spanish.

You can buy tickets at Union Box Office, over the phone or online. For ticket information, visit VDAYCarolina.web.unc.edu.

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Thursday, February 13, UNC’s FedEx Global Education Center will host the world premiere of “Ice Music,” a multimedia creation by the artist Brooks de Wetter-Smith. “Ice Music” examines the beauty and the importance of ice in our world, featuring de Wetter-Smith’s videography and photography, a new musical composition by Lowell Liebermann, and dance choreographed by Carey McKinley.

“Ice Music” will premiere at 8:00 p.m. on February 13, in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Center as part of UNC’s Process Series. On Friday the 14th, there will be a workshop presentation and discussion at 4:00 p.m., also in the Mandela Auditorium.

For more information, click here.

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You’re invited to a public information meeting on Thursday, February 13, to discuss Orange County’s “Agricultural Support Enterprises” program.

The program is designed to help farmers generate additional income by expanding the types of activities they may pursue on their farms. It’s been in development since 2001; Orange County is currently considering amending the Unified Development Ordinance to adopt it.

The meeting will take place at 6:00 p.m. in the Food Lab of the Environmental and Agricultural Center, located at 306 Revere Road in Hillsborough.

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Protect your cats and dogs by coming to a Microchip Clinic on Thursday, February 13, from 3-5 p.m. at the Orange County Animal Services Department on Eubanks Road.

Microchips will cost $25 per pet, which includes registration with 24PetWatch’s national database. The Department will also offer one-year rabies vaccinations as well, for $10 per pet.

For more information, visit OrangeCountyNC.gov/AnimalServices.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/week-orange-county-weather-permitting/

Tips To Prevent Pipes From Freezing

ORANGE COUNTY - Cold temperatures can cause several headaches to our homes such as power outages and frozen pipes.

Orange Water and Sewer Authority’s Greg Feller has several tips to help keep your pipes from freezing as temperatures drop well below freezing. He suggests paying careful attention to pipes that aren’t well-insulated.

“If someone has an unheated area such as a crawl space or basement where there are water pipes, then it is important to close off any openings to keep cold air from getting into the crawl space,” Feller says.

Feller suggests filling any cracks with a piece of insulation, plastic or paper.

To keep the pipes from freezing, he recommends turning the faucets on to a slight trickle or slow stream to keep the water moving through the pipes. Feller adds well-insulated pipes do not have to run a drip; that is only necessary for long-term freezing temperatures.

“Our recommendation is to let water drip from the highest faucet or spicket in a house,” Feller says. “If all of the faucets are at the same level, it really doesn’t matter which is done.”

Feller adds that if there is a water pipe next to an exterior wall enclosed in a cabinet, opening those cabinet doors can let in heat to help prevent the pipes from freezing. He also suggests making sure that covers on OWASA meters remain closed to prevent damaging its elements.

http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/tips-prevent-pipes-freezing/