Well water weeks away

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

January 3, 2014

Two permanent production wells that will launch a new era in water service for Sampson County, and decrease the amount of outside purchases the county has to make in future years, will be online in coming weeks.

Sampson County Public Works director Lee Cannady is expected to officially update the Sampson Board of Commissioners in February regarding the wells’ construction over the course of 2013 and the upcoming process to bring them onto the system, but said Thursday he expects the wells to be in operation soon.

“We’ve got a few outstanding items to take care of in the next few weeks, but that project should be coming to an end,” Cannady said. “We are not sure when yet, but we’re knocking on that door.”

It took the majority of 2013 to install infrastructure that is anticipated not only to save the county a significant amount of money, but over subsequent decades be able to help the county become self-sufficient and actually make money from its own water sales. Up to this point, Sampson has been completely dependent on outside means to provide water to its customers.

While specific dollars and cents figures regarding savings will not be known until later in 2014, the wells coming online is a big step from an operations standpoint — and those savings will assuredly occur.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Cannady said. “Until you flip that switch, you won’t know what you will get. We know we will be able to save some money, but we’ve got to play with the wells to see how they interact with the system.”

The possibility of installing wells has been discussed for many years. Cannady talked at length with the Board of Commissioners about the water system, the county’s history of purchasing and the vast resource that lies beneath the surface that could see a Sampson-based network thrive in the future.

On the heels of those meetings, the board unanimously approved a bid in March 2013 by Herring-Rivenbark Inc. of Kinston for the Sampson County Wellhead Completion Project. The second and final phase of the wellhead project, modified from three wells to two, the project came with a $1.3 million price tag.

Phase one consisted of test wells, which revealed that three wells placed in the county could consistently pump groundwater. Through the second phase, the two best-performing production wells for water consumption were constructed — permanent wells at N.C. 403 (Faison Highway) and Old Warsaw Road. A third, the lower-performing Beaman site located at the water tank on U.S. 421, was developed in the test phase but not pursued as part of the project.

The final phase saw the development of the wells and the installation of the pumps and water lines to tie in with the county’s existing system, Cannady noted. The Beaman site is still there to be considered in the future, but for the time being the two wells, and possibly some additional lines, will be the focal point of the county’s endeavor.

For many years, Sampson has purchased its water from area municipalities, with the majority being supplied by the cities of Dunn and Clinton. Those purchases are not expected to halt altogether for the time being, but Sampson will be able to become far less dependent in the short-term through the project.

The two permanent wells will produce 600 gallons per minute, tallying 700,000 to 800,000 gallons a day. One well cannot be pumped for more than a 12-hour period, so the two wells to be developed will be rotated. With that amount of water available here, water purchases could be cut by as much as half to start — but that is up in the air.

“In a couple months we should have some type of feel (as to the extent of decreasing water purchases),” he said. “Six months for sure; a couple months I hope. We’re going to have about 800,000 gallons a day, but we’re still going to purchase from (Dunn and others) for the time being.”

The county currently purchases surface water from Dunn, and groundwater from Clinton, Roseboro, Turkey and Garland. In 2009, the county purchased nearly 900,000 gallons per day from those municipalities. In 2013, Sampson bought more than 1,030,000 gallons daily, most of it from Dunn, and the price has gotten steeper.

Over the next several weeks, the county will finalize its first permanent well development project, as well as do the necessary training for its employees and obtain the requisite approval needed from the state — all steps that must be taken before the wells are turned on.

Cannady said he wants to see more rounds of wells and already has a third location in mind. He did not wish to disclose that location but is expected to share it with commissioners next month. Eventually, with the development of more wells, the public works director said, the county could wean itself off outside support fully.

First things first, he noted.

“We have to make sure we meet state standards,” said Cannady. “Once we get approval from the state, we can go live.”

That flipped switch will be a moment that has been years in the making.

Sampson County currently maintains in excess of 500 miles of water line serving 5,100 customers. A water supply study done years ago determined that the cost of developing and equipping wells to provide a groundwater supply for its existing water distribution system could be more cost effective than purchasing water from various municipal sources.

Bolstered by that study, county officials went forward with the two-phase well project at a cost of around $2.6 million, made up of about $1.8 million in USDA loans and a grant component of $835,000.

With the first round of wells, Cannady said he does not want to cut anyone out. Diversification is the goal, so the county can purchase, sell back and produce the natural resource for itself. He also knows that, just as much as Sampson County depends on Dunn for water, Dunn budgets $45,000 per month from Sampson water sales alone.

So, just as much as it is about cost-cutting, self-sufficiency and growth for Sampson, solid partnerships cultivated over many years are not going to be shunned, Cannady said. While 800,000 gallons from the two wells would provide the county with what it needs moving forward, system redundancy and maintaining those working relationships are just as important, he said.

“That’s going to be a drastic change for them,” said Cannady. “We don’t want to burn any bridges. We want to be diversified and we want to ease into it.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at