The Reverse Osmosis Plant Proposal in Leland: What You Need to Know

by Jun 20, 2017Across the Cape Fear, Brunswick County, North Brunswick

Clashing river currents run through the Cape Fear, dividing residents, business owners, politicians and water utility board members. Some say the old way of treating the county’s water is good enough, while others say an updated method is vital.

Brunswick Regional Water & Sewer H2GO wants to change their water filtration process by building a brand new reverse osmosis water treatment plant near the site of the current plant in Belville. The new plant is estimated to cost $30 million dollars, with $20 million coming from a secured bond.

Some Brunswick County citizens have expressed opposition towards the new plant due to concerns over the environmental impact and whether the County really needs and can afford one in the first place. But here’s what we know so far:

But here’s what we know so far.

What Is Reverse Osmosis Technology?

Reverse osmosis water treatment, or RO, removes contaminants and impurities from the water through a system of semipermeable membranes. The process creates a “brine” as waste, and the membranes must be cleaned with special solution, all of which causes waste management obligations.

Developed in the late 1950s, the technology has seen many improvements over the decades, refining recycling abilities of the waste products and creating more energy efficieny.

In fact, many households have personal reverse osmosis filtration systems installed for their drinking water, and RO plants for water utilities can be found throughout the world.

Why Does H2GO Want A Reverse Osmosis Plant?

Not all members of the H2GO board want the change over to RO, but the majority do, for now. They believe Brunswick County Public Utilities does not have sufficient treatment capacity to supply H2GO’s future water needs as the county grows.

Population Trends in Brunswick CountyThe population in the Lower Cape Fear region is expected to grow significantly over the coming years. Source: New Hanover County

One of the biggest gains to the County when it comes to building an RO plant is a cleaner, more reliable water supply and savings for their customers.

Rodney McCoy, a Leland resident who is pro-RO, says the new plant “will provide superior quality water, provide for some diversification of supply. This is a comprehensive plan and includes a state of the art system.”

H2GO would draw surface water from the Lower Peedee and Black Creek aquifers instead of purchasing water from Brunswick County Public Utilities. H2GO cannot purchase and treat raw water from the Cape Fear because “lack of capacity in the system prevents them from selling raw water allocations.” For this reason, Brunswick County Public Utilities sells wholesale finished water to H2GO.

How does that work? First, Brunswick County buys raw water from the Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority (LCFW&SA), who owns this region’s permit to withdraw water from the Cape Fear River. Then, Brunswick County Public Utilities sells wholesale finished water to H2GO.

If the new RO plant is approved, H2GO can get and treat its own water from the aquifers, bypassing LCFW&SA and Brunswick County, which would save H2GO around 1.8 million dollars per year.

It would also mean independence from relying upon the Cape Fear River, which is considered to be polluted. Contaminants in the river include agricultural, construction site and household run-off, coal ash from Wilmington’s Sutton plant, pharmaceuticals, and now, an unregulated chemical called GenX.

In addition, H2GO “has less than a day’s average usage in storage” and the “average daily demand is about 1.7 million gallons per day.”

Currently, the maximum daily demand has exceeded 3.7 million gallons per day.

If It’s Needed, Then Why Did They File the Appeals?

While H2GO is still planning to move forward with the plant, the Brunswick County Commissioners are trying to pump the breaks.

At least 900 residents who signed a petition believe the plant is being rushed, and they want to wait until after the November election before moving forward. After hearing from residents, the Brunswick County Board passed a resolution to urge the utility to stop construction of the plant until after the November elections.

Residents also voiced concerns that the new plant will be loud and create light pollution. H2GO Executive Director Bob Walker has assured homeowners there will be no nuisance near the proposed 34-acre site at the Waterford Business Park in Belville.

Then, in early June, the Town of Leland filed an appeal to stay their newly granted wastewater discharge permit. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality had just granted the permit this past May.

The town says that when the permit was granted, H2GO “failed to include an adequate engineering alternative analysis” and did not consider other options. The council also says a new plant will be a “burdensome and unnecessary project” and that the current utility “can continue to provide safe, clean drinking water in a cost-effective manner for the foreseeable future”.

There are further concerns about the discharge permit, which authorizes the release of one million gallons of treated wastewater per day into the Brunswick River, a primary fishery nursery area.

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit allows for treated wastewater to be discarded into the Brunswick River, with a provision that the UNCW Center for Marine Science will monitor the discharge to safeguard the environment.

What Does This Mean for Residents?

No matter which side of this issue, residents can be assured that they have enough safe and affordable water for now. And despite the delays, H2GO is still moving ahead with “Phase 19” to earn approvals from the Local Government Commission—that application was submitted on June 8, 2017.

A revenue bond approval will be considered sometime by July 11, 2017. The RO plant’s wells are currently under a 1.6 million construction contract with Skipper’s Well Drilling and Pump Service of Leland.

The equipment is also under contract for 1.7 million, with bids for construction of the plant and transmission lines being accepted this summer.

The plant is anticipated to be up and running by 2019.

To stay active and participate in decision making, customers of H2GO are encouraged to attend the Brunswick County and Leland meetings to voice concerns, and get to talking about the pros and cons on social media.

The contested case hearing for the discharge permit will take place on October 9, 2017 in the Brunswick County Courthouse.

Ed.Note: On June 20, 2017, Chemours issues a press release stating that it would no longer release wastewater containing GenX into the Cape Fear River.

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