09/16/08 — State officials to Mount Olive: Water woes are your fault

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State officials to Mount Olive: Water woes are your fault

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 16, 2008 1:37 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Inadequate maintenance has caused the problems with Mount Olive's water system, state officials told town leaders Monday -- and fixing them is going to require planning, prioritizing and money.

Those were the assessments of Al Hodge and Wayne Bryant of the Washington, N.C., office of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality.

Commissioners were not the only ones on hand to hear the message. Several residents also attended the meeting to complain about higher water bills. Commissioners were unable to offer any comfort other than to say that every water customer pays the same rate.

In several cases, commissioners suggested the town check water meters because the bills presented Monday night appeared out of line even with the new rates.

One woman told the board the town needs to maintain a fund to do the maintenance work so that the citizens of the town "would not have to suffer like this again."

The new rates, which are based on usage, are expected to generate additional funds for repair and maintenance of the water/sewer system.

Mount Olive officials met with Bryant and Hodge over a month ago to discuss the town's ongoing efforts to repair and maintain its water and sewer systems.

Town Manager Charles Brown said one outgrowth of that meeting was that Hodge and Bryant wanted to address the full town board.

Bryant provided a brief outline of the 38 sewer overflows the town has experienced since March 2002. Those spills have released 4.1 million gallons of raw sewage -- 3.3 million gallons of which reached state surface waters such as ditches and streams.

Just recently, the town paid a $4,570 fine related to a spill. Additional, and more costly, fines can be expected if the town fails to convince the state it is doing its utmost to address the problems causing them.

"We are here to plead to you to use your resources, fees, any sources you can find to eliminate the sources of inflow," Bryant said. "Do what you need to do with your (water) fees and so forth."

Mount Olive, like many other towns, has two sources of water getting into the sewer system -- inflow and infiltration -- that contribute to the overflows.

Inflow occurs when rainwater enters the system. Infiltration occurs when groundwater enters the system through cracks in the sewer lines.

Bryant said the town has a "significant" inflow problem.

Once the water is in the system it has to be treated just like wastewater and the system is unable to handle the additional load.

"Remember every gallon above what your customers are using on a daily basis you are having to pay for in treatment," he said. "You have to pump it, you have to treat it and you have to pump it out of your plant. It is costing you in terms of fines or in treatment. It is costing you money that you are not getting one penny of revenue for."

Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. reminded Bryant and Hodge that the town had adjusted its water rates.

McDonald wanted to know how much work and money the town would have to commit each year. He also wanted to know if the town's plan that had been presented to the state was satisfactory.

Bryant said the plan did not specify times for the work to be done. He said the plan dealt primarily with pump station replacements "where we felt the plans should be more inflow-related."

Hodge said he realized the problems had not occurred overnight and that it would take time to correct them.

"Our primary task we have asked your staff to do is to prioritize the things that need fixing," Hodge said. "Your collection system is in a state of disrepair in our opinion. It is suffering from inadequate maintenance for a number of years for what reasons I do not know. But it has not received what I would call adequate maintenance for a while.

"They (town officials) have identified a lot of areas that need repairs. Some of them will have a better result of removing water from your system than others. We have asked them to prioritize that."

Hodge said there are grants available for the work. However, he said in his opinion where the town planned to use a grant request would not best address the issue.

Bryant said that when the town has another sewer spill, it will be up to him and Hodge to assess whether the town has done the best it can and to determine if a fine will be assessed and how much it will be.

A factor would be the dedication of funds for maintenance and repairs.

"Where can the town get the most gallons out of that system for the dollars it spends," he said. "You are not there yet in your planned assessment. You have got to make that decision. You have got to make that commitment over a timeframe."

That includes setting funds aside "from now on" a regular basis to maintain the system.

"That to my knowledge has not been done," Hodge said. "While you address these acute situations you, also on the side, need to develop a plan for day-in, day-out maintenance."

Brown told Hodge that the town, for the first time, has a budget line item to address repairs and maintenance.

"Unfortunately, that money goes quickly," he said.

Recent repairs to a sewer line and manhole on Church Street consumed $50,000 of the $100,000 line item, he said.

The town has applied for a $2.1 million grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund for sewer line rehabilitation as well as a new sewer line along N.C. 55 to the town's new wastewater treatment plant east of town.

Currently, all of the sewer volume is directed through a line that runs through town creating a bottleneck. The new line would split that volume, Brown said.