Cloudy water has gotten the attention of consumers across northern Sampson County and, although deemed safe by environmental officials and engineers, will take a pretty penny to clear up.
“Over the last several months, we have had issues with the water and I’m sure you’ve gotten calls,” said Public Works director Lee Cannady, citing the main artery north of Spivey’s Corner that branches out to users across the northern part of the county.
The dirty water is being caused by oxidized iron and manganese and Sampson County officials are weighing options to alleviate the issue, approving Monday night to move forward with a preliminary engineering report, as well as seek out firm cost estimates and other funding avenues to fix the problem.
Despite its color, Dewberry engineer Matthew West said the water is safe as those 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.
Cannady said lines in the entire northern portion of the county were flushed recently. It took four months.
“When you have a county the size of Rhode Island that is pretty challenging in itself,” Cannady said. “I think the compounding problem goes back to the 10 million gallons in the ground not being consumed. Are we better off today than we ever have been? By all means. 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. Even with that, Sampson is well under the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement limit, which is 1 milligram of iron and manganese per liter.
“Sampson is at .05, one-2oth of the enforceable limit. It’s that low,” West attested.
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).
“At the end of the day, we have found that we have an iron and manganese issue. It’s not a safety issue,” said Cannady. “We have had some pretty stiff conversation from customers. When you look at it, it looks bad. It’s safe to drink, but that’s hard to convince somebody. It’s not a health risk, but mama’s not gonna like it at the washing machine. You can talk ‘til you’re blue in the face, you’ll never convince them that it’s safe.”
Cannady showed commissioners what he was talking about, lifting a filled bottle with some of the four-month-old dirty water, which clouded the bottle like sweet tea. He said the darker color was indicative of manganese,while a redder color was iron.
West talked about a sequestering process currently being done in the county, which is delaying the iron and manganese oxidation process. Raw samples have been sent to a lab in Virginia, results of which show removal below detectable limits. The other option is treatment, which comes with a cost.
“That’s what is going to get it out completely,” West said of the treatment option. “The sequestering is a stop-gap treatment. That is in process and we are going to do some additional testing.”
Preliminary costs of the treatment system is approximately $650,000 per well site.
“This is like being hit in the stomach,” said Kirby of the cost. “You can say ‘safe’ all you want to, but you can’t convince my mama to drink that. I can understand how this would be concerning to people out there and it’s something we need to address, but the cost is amazing.”
The Economic Development Administration could potentially cover half the cost of treatment for the third well, West noted.
“It’s a substantial cost to get it out for a concentration that is one-2oth of the enforceable limit,” West noted. “The sequestering could offer long-term benefits, or it could not do anything. Initially, it seems to be helping but to truly get it out and not have to worry about it, you have to remove it through the treatment system.”
Cannady said he wanted to look at funding options, noting that while the price tag was hefty, it was still cheaper than purchasing outside water. The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with a preliminary engineering report to further evaluate the situation toward coming up with solutions to eradicate the problem.
“Our greatest revenue source would be selling water to others,” said Kirby, noting the importance of having a good and clean-looking product to sell. Cannady concurred, holding up the brown water.
“Would you want to buy that?” he asked.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.