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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Flood Insurance Study; OWASA Blood Drive; Non-Profit Funding

CHAPEL HILL - A new Orange County Flood Insurance Study will be held in meeting room A at the Chapel Hill Public Library from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on December 18.

Residents and businesses are invited to review the flood hazard and flood risk data.  Beginning at 4:00 p.m., data will be presented on computers and layered over the County’s parcel.  At 5:00 p.m. a brief presentation will be given by the NC Floodplain Risk Mapping Program and from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. the public may ask questions.

For more information click here.


On December 27, OWASA will hold an American Red Cross Blood Drive from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00p.m. and needs your support.

The blood drive will be in the community room on the lower floor of OWASA’s AdministrationBuilding.  People who come out to donate will receive a free Red Cross long sleeve shirt.

Appointments are recommended to move through quickly, but walk-ins are welcome after noon.


The Human Services Advisory Board is accepting applications from outside agencies and non-profits for funding during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Forms are available online for non-profits human service agencies serving Chapel Hill.  All applications should be electronically submitted or delivered to Chapel Hill Human Services Coordinator Jackie Thompson by 5:00 p.m. January 24.

For more information call Jackie Thomson at 919-968-2760.


OWASA Maintains Water Rates For Two Years

CHAPEL HILL – In the past couple years our community-owned water treatment facility, OWASA, has received several awards and kept water rates the same.

Some of those awards include the Platinum Award for Utility Excellence from the Association of Metropolitan Water and the “Excellence in Water Treatment” award from the Partnership for Safe Water. “(And) one of our most recent operational awards is the Partnership for Safe Water’s Distribution System Directors Award for systems who optimize their drinking water system,” says Mary Darr, OWASA’s director of engineering and planning.

And as OWASA receives awards for their drinking water and utility systems, staff continues to work on improving efficiency. “OWASA has for many years had a philosophy of continuous improvement which means that we are constantly trying to see ways to provide a higher quality service, a more reliable service, and a more efficient service” says OWASA public affairs representative Greg Feller.

That philosophy has enabled OWASA to keep water rates the same for the past two years.

“Some of the things we have done in recent years for efficiency is reducing the work force,” Feller says. “We have about 12 percent fewer employees now than we had in 2004.” (As employees left the company, OWASA evaluated the vacant positions and consolidated work to avoid the need to hire new personnel.)

Feller says OWASA’s newest project is focused in improving efficiency at the Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“There is now a project underway (there) that will increase the energy efficiency of the biological treatment process, and we expect that’s going to involve a 20 percent reduction in electricity use,” he says.

For more information you can click here.


Understanding “Obamacare”; Halloween Carnival; Blood Drive

CHAPEL HILL - The League of Women Voters of Orange/Durham/Chatham Counties will hold an educational program on Understanding the Affordable Care Act at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

The educational program will provide people with an understanding of the Affordable Care Act and its implementation in North Carolina.  The first session will be held on Monday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will be free to the public.

The second session will take place on December 4 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

For more information call 919-968-2780.


Carrboro Town Commons will host the Annual Halloween Carnival along with a pumpkin carving contest on October 31.

People wanting to enter the pumpkin carving contest should bring their pre-carved pumpkin to the Carrboro Town Commons between 9:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.  Citizens will be able to vote on the pumpkins during the Annual Halloween Carnival from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The winner will be announced at 8:15 p.m.

The Carnival will last until 8:30 p.m. and children will be able to make crafts, win prizes, and play carnival games.

For more information click here.


On October 31, OWASA and the American Red Cross will sponsor the annual Halloween blood drive at OWASA from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The blood drive will be held in the Community room on the lower floor of OWASA’s administrative building.  People who come to donate blood will be entered into a drawing for a $200 gift card courtesy of Suburban Propane. For more information click here.


Farmers’ Market Fall Hours; OWASA GM; Late Night

LEAD IN:  The fun won’t end at the Farmer’s Market in the fall, but the hours will change.

The Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market is still open on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. until noon, but the Tuesday hours are shifting. You can visit the market from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays.

And don’t miss out on the Halloween Harvest Festival on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until noon. Come to show off your Halloween costume, to grub on local vendors’ freshly-made dishes, or to play games. Farmers will even tell you the secrets of their favorite recipes.

For more information about the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market, click here.


The Orange Water and Sewer Authority has a new General Manager of Operations.

Todd Taylor is a professional engineer, and he just got the job. He is responsible for the drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, water pipe systems, laboratories, and maintenance.

Taylor has 14 years of experience in the engineering and utility fields.


Late Night with Roy is a tradition that attracts hundreds of UNC basketball fans every year. And Chapel Hill Transit has a plan to supplement the crowd.

Shuttles will run every 10 to 15 minutes from the FridayCenter to the Dean Dome Friday night. The increased shuttle operations run from 5:30 p.m. until 45 after the event is over.

Roundtrip rides are $5. A one-way trip will cost you $3.

For more information about the shuttle schedule, click here.


Studies On Diabetes and Autism; OWASA Fixes Pipe

CHAPEL HILL - A study by the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC found that diets rich in amino and omega-3 fatty acids help young people with Type One diabetes. It helps them continue producing insulin for up to two years after their diagnosis.

Researchers specifically looked at leucine, an amino acid found in soy and whole wheat products, as well as nuts, eggs and some meat and dairy. While the diabetics in the study still required insulin doses, researchers said this study points to a reduced risk of diabetes complications later in life.


Researchers at UNC found that preschoolers and preschool-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder saw improvements from high-quality early intervention treatment, regardless of treatment model.

The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute study looked at the various treatment models for children with ASD and found that, as long as it was a comprehensive early program, children improved at largely equal levels.

The study involved 198 three-to-five year old children in public school districts across the country.


OWASA crews replaced a broken water pipe Tuesday on Old Forest Creek Drive.

Part of the road was closed as the repairs went from 3:00 to 10:30 a.m.

The number of customers who were left without water during the repairs was four, according to OWASA.