The county will have to pay close to $1.4 million to treat cloudy drinking water in the northern end of the county, and is seeking funding opportunities to move that project forward.
Earlier this month, the Board of Commissioners unanimously authorized the funding application submission, while authorizing design and permitting to proceed — deemed a “parallel track” toward implementing the project. A resolution is expected to be approved Monday formalizing that board action. The resolution, authorizing the submission of an application for loan/grant funding for the well treatment improvements, must accompany the funding application.
At the board’s work session earlier this month, Dewberry engineer Matthew West talked about the costs of developing and installing treatment systems for two existing groundwater wells.
In May, West and Public Works director Lee Cannady talked at length about the cloudy water problem, which they said was caused by oxidized iron and manganese. At that time, county officials approved paying for a preliminary engineering report to weigh options to alleviate the issue.
Two county wells on N.C. 403 (Faison Highway) and Old Warsaw Road are currently in operation. Another well that would build the system and enhance the supply of water to the Enviva site and surrounding area is being planned for the I-40/Faison interchange (Exit 355).
Despite its color, West said earlier this year that the water is safe as those oxidized iron and manganese levels have tested at just one-20th of the enforceable level. West cited an initial estimate to treat the county’s two working wells at $1.3 million, or $650,000 apiece.
Estimates in the engineering report presented by West this month are in line with those figures.
Total project cost for two wells to be treated with manganese dioxide, encompassing construction, engineering contingency, legal and administrative fees, tallies $1,351,000, or about $676,000 per well. There would be an annual cost of $252,000, including debt service (20 years, 5 percent interest), as well as labor, electrical, media replacement and sludge disposal.
For the ion exchange method, the project cost for two wells would be less at $1,326,000, or about $663,000 per well. The annual cost, however, would be $297,000. With manganese dioxide treatment, the capital costs are larger, but the long-term operation costs are less, West noted.
“Long-term, the manganese dioxide method seems to be the most operational and cost-effective,” West said, noting side-by-side comparisons of that well water treatment system as opposed to an ion exchange method.
He said the manganese dioxide treatment offered the greatest operational flexibility, with smoother integration into the existing system and the ability to recover a significant portion of the waste stream. While a sequestering process was previously discussed, that was deemed a stop-gap measure, with treatment the only way to solve the problem.
The water is safe, West and Cannady said, but that is a hard sell to consumers who use the water and customers who would potentially purchase the water and offset operational costs for the Sampson system.
“I think the compounding problem goes back to the 10 million gallons in the ground not being consumed,” Cannady has said. “The people in this county are probably drinking the safest water they’ve ever drank. But we do have a retention issue.”
West said the difference between Sampson and other counties that do not have the dirty water problem is that, for many counties, water is produced from wells and consumed within a few days. “The system is small enough and the demand is high enough that it is consumed,” West said, noting much longer detention times in the Sampson system.
“When you look at it, it looks bad. It’s safe to drink, but that’s hard to convince somebody,” Cannady has said.
West listed a number of state and federal funding opportunities that could be available, including grants and 100 percent loans.
“There is no guarantee you will receive grant funds,” he noted.
Applications are due at the end of September, with funding awards made in January 2017.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.