It might be considered a watershed moment: on Tuesday, the new H2GO reverse-osmosis water treatment plant began pumping water from a Brunswick County aquifer to customers.
It’s a successful outcome for a project more than a decade in the making. The notion that H2GO should source and treat its own water supply was first considered in 2011. The proposal moved ahead along a sometimes-bumpy road, finally winning approval to proceed in 2020, after which plant construction began.
“For the past nine-and-a-half years, H2GO has studied the comparative cost between building a reverse osmosis water treatment facility and continuing to purchase water from Brunswick County Public Utilities,” the utility states on its website. “H2GO’s team of professional planners, consulting engineers, hydrogeologists, and financial rate consultants has evaluated, analyzed, and developed detailed technical and financial documentation necessary for H2GO’s staff and Board of Commissioners to determine that building a reverse osmosis water treatment facility would be financially beneficial to its customers.
“The reverse osmosis water treatment facility will not only provide a financial benefit to H2GO’s customers, but it will also meet the growing water needs of H2GO’s rapidly expanding customer base.”
H2GO is a self-governing public entity that serves northeast Brunswick County and includes Leland, Belville, parts of Navassa and customers located outside the limits of these incorporated towns.
The reverse-osmosis process was the water treatment choice from the proposal’s early days, H2GO spokesperson Stephanie Blair said Tuesday. When news broke in 2017 that Cape Fear River water contained significant levels of Chemours’ GenX, that only reinforced H2GO’s choice. GenX contains toxic per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (better known as PFAS), which the reverse-osmosis process filters out.
The primary reason for the project remained controlling costs, however, Blair said, explaining that the utility has for years purchased treated, or “finished,” water wholesale from Brunswick County Public Utilities. The price was subject to unpredictable fluctuations, she said, offering an example.
“We had a big price jump a year ago, from $2.89 per thousand gallons to $5.25 per thousand gallons,” she said. “We had no control over cost increases that ultimately would be put on customers. Our reason for considering [the reverse-osmosis plant] was to control costs.”
PFAS elimination is currently not an issue, since H2GO will now draw its water from the Lower PeeDee and Black Creek aquifers, which are deep, confined and uncontaminated by man-made chemicals, although the water is brackish, Blair said. H2GO officials say that the two aquifers are not susceptible to drought, and the treatment process will remove the salt and any sediment.
Adequate water supply is an issue, because of the rapid growth of Leland and surrounding areas in northeastern Brunswick County. H2GO officials have stated that enabling the utility to source and treat its own water better helps the utility meet demand, which they project will grow from the current 1.7 million gallons a day average to an average daily demand of about 3 million gallons by 2035. They say peak demands by that year could reach as much as 6 million gallons per day.
With water pumping and flowing through the new water distribution system, the utility’s next task is to flush the existing water through the water lines to purge disinfectants and unregulated contaminants.
During this process, which could take several weeks, customers may experience fluctuations in water pressure and a temporary decline in water quality.
“We ask customers to please be patient as we work to return the water distribution system to normal operations,” Bob Walker, H2GO’s executive director, said in the release. “During the flushing process, public water supplies will continue to meet all regulatory requirements. When the flushing program is complete, H2GO public water supplies will be free of harmful contaminants such as 1,4-Dioxane, GenX and other per-fluorinated compounds. H2GO’s Reverse Osmosis treated public water supplies will be of the highest quality.”