Two county wells anticipated to substantially reduce outside water purchases could be online by next week, a “historic” occasion for an entity that has never produced its own water.
Up to this point, Sampson County has been completely dependent on outside means to provide water to its customers, including purchases from Dunn, the City of Clinton and others.
“It is a red-letter day in the history of Sampson County,” Board of Commissioners chairman Jefferson Strickland remarked. “This is the first water to be pumped by the Sampson County system, and this is going to replace about 50 percent of the purchased water from the City of Dunn. When you think about some of the big events in Sampson County — this is one of them.”
This week, the county board received the official news that two wells would be in operation in a matter of days and, still more positive news, there was USDA grant money left over to spend.
“It’s a good day in Sampson County. We’re finally getting close to where we can actually flip the switch on,” Sampson County Public Works director Lee Cannady said. “Most of the time when you have a project of this magnitude you run into money crunches … but we have a different scenario. We have excess money that we need to spend.”
In March 2013, the county approved a $1.3 million bid from Herring-Rivenbark Inc. of Kinston for the Sampson County Wellhead Completion Project. Dewberry engineering firm has overseen the project from its inception.
That included phase one’s test wells, which revealed three county locations that could consistently pump groundwater. Through the second phase, the two best-performing production wells for water consumption were constructed — permanent wells at N.C. 403 (Faison Highway) and Old Warsaw Road. A third, the lower-performing Beaman site located at the water tank on U.S. 421, was developed in the test phase but not pursued as part of the project.
The two permanent wells will produce 600 gallons per minute, tallying about 800,000 gallons a day. One well cannot be pumped for more than a 12-hour period, so the two wells will be rotated.
“Dewberry has certified the wells and submitted that to N.C. (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Final approval should be coming back any day,” said Matthew West, with Dewberry engineering firm. “As soon as that is in hand, the wells can be started.”
Once the wells are going, some additional tests will be conducted to ensure they can fill the tanks. There is no reason to doubt that will happen, West noted.
“The project should be substantially complete within the next couple weeks,” he said this week. “Within the next 7-10 days, the wells should be up and running. When the wells come online, the amount of water being purchased from Dunn will reduce. Initial estimations are that the water purchases from Dunn will likely reduce by 50 percent.”
West said the wells will be monitored and numbers adjusted as Public Works officials see fit.
Sampson County currently maintains in excess of 500 miles of water line serving 5,100 customers. A water supply study done years ago determined that the cost of developing and equipping wells to provide a groundwater supply for its existing distribution system could be more cost effective than purchasing water from various municipal sources.
Bolstered by that study, county officials went forward with the two-phase well project at a cost of around $2.6 million, made up of about $1.8 million in USDA loans and a grant component of $835,000.
With two wells now constructed, there is some grant money left — about $375,000.
For a USDA loan/grant package, all loan funds must be spent first before grant money is expended, West explained. He said the current contractor could design and permit the project, or the county could pursue other contractors. There is a time crunch: the remaining funds have to be spent by Sept. 1.
West said the county has two options on how to spend the money, as the remaining funds have to fit in with the scope of the project. The county can construct and develop a well near the Hobbton tank on U.S. 701 North, or install water transmission lines to connect the northern part of District 2, north of N.C. 24, to the southern part of the district south of N.C. 24.
The latter would allow the county not only to supplement Dunn water purchases, but those from Clinton as well, while preparing for future growth. West said that was Dewberry’s recommendation.
The project would consist of approximately 3,600 linear feet of 12-inch water main on Old Warsaw Road, approximately 6,100 linear feet of 8-inch water main on Matthis Road and roughly 5,900 linear feet of 12-inch water main along Moltonville Road. The line from N.C. 24 to Moltonville would connect at Rowan and Beaman Woods roads to provide a link to the south.
“We believe that provides the county with the best available option to maximize the use of these funds,” West said, noting production wells are a bit more risky. “It would provide a reliable water quality and supply to District 2 south, help the county reduce operating costs and serve as a baby step to provide additional supply to the southern districts.”
For many years, Sampson has purchased its water from area municipalities, with the majority being supplied by the cities of Dunn and Clinton. Those purchases are not expected to halt altogether for the time being, and Cannady has expressed the need for diversification with the first round of wells.
The county currently purchases surface water from Dunn, and groundwater from Clinton, Roseboro, Turkey and Garland. In 2013, Sampson bought more than 1,030,000 gallons daily, most of it from Dunn.
Cannady said the county wants savings, but does not want to cut anyone out or “burn bridges.” Just as much as Sampson depends on Dunn for water, Dunn budgets $45,000 per month from Sampson water sales alone.
With 50 percent of those purchases able to be eliminated, the county looks to save about $270,000 annually. And that number could continue to grow.
“If wellheads can continue to be developed, the idea would be to offset those purchases and become independent,” West remarked. “I think it would be way down the road (before Sampson can sell water) — many more phases of well development — but Sampson County is sitting on a huge well water resource. Down the road I think that can be an option.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby said the groundwater resource that lies beneath Sampson’s surface is like “crude oil,” and said he looked forward to the day where that might be utilized toward easing the tax burden for the county’s citizens.
“The idea that we’re actually doing our own now, I feel like we’ve made a big step,” said Kirby, who lauded Cannady and Dewberry. Commissioners Harry Parker, Billy Lockamy and Jarvis McLamb echoed those sentiments. McLamb also credited the foresight of commissioners in moving forward with the project years ago.
Cannady also praised the board for their vision, and said this was just the beginning.
“You’ll probably get tired of me coming to you and asking for more wells,” Cannady remarked.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.