Water, wastewater issues explained

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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GATESVILLE – Gates County’s Board of Commissioners have hired an engineering firm to assist them in writing an application for a grant that will aid the county in making much needed repairs to its public water and wastewater systems.

At a special called meeting here Aug. 3, the board approved a motion calling for the hiring of Green Engineering of Wilson. That company’s first assignment is to submit an application on the county’s behalf in seeking an Assessment and Inventory Assistance (AIA) grant. That application is due Sept. 30

“The AIA is the springboard to other grants,” said Board chair Dr. Althea Riddick. “Without the AIA grant we cannot move forward.”

Brad Arnold, the county’s new Director of Public Utilities, said he contacted three engineering companies in an effort to help the county in the process of submitting a grant application. Of the three, Arnold said Green Engineering suggested developing a capital improvement plan and a wellhead protection plan.

“They have a great track record in helping counties and municipalities apply for and receive grants,” Arnold said.

The grant, if awarded, will be for water and wastewater treatment needs. The latter would include any new area or areas of the county where wastewater is needed and the size and scope of a treatment facility.

The county is currently on the state’s distressed list due to compliance issues with water and wastewater.

Arnold, who has been on the job for two months, shared with the commissioners some of the most pressing issues with the county’s public water and wastewater systems.

He said the new wastewater sprayfield is not in use. An official with NC Rural Water has been contacted and will arrive to perform an assessment on how to switch the flows from the old sprayfield to the new one. The county will remain under a state moratorium until the new sprayfield is operational.

Later in the meeting, Arnold said he is unaware of why the new sprayfield was not immediately put in service upon completion.

“We hope to get that corrected very shortly,” Arnold stressed. “The plant and the sprayfield will work in manual operation; they do not work automatically.”

Other issues regarding wastewater includes the need of a sludge tank at the treatment plant and a recommendation by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to plant Bermuda grass as the cover crop at the new sprayfield.

DEQ cited the county for seven violations at the old sprayfield. Arnold updated the commissioners by informing them that all but one are corrected.

“We’re waiting on parts to make repairs on the final one,” Arnold stated.

He added that two manholes are in need of repairs (Honeypot Road and Cotton Gin Road).

As far as issues with the water department, Arnold said improvements are needed at the water plant where two pump casings are badly rusted and leaking. There are also issues with exterior lighting at the plant. Well #3 is leaking badly, but can be fixed by staff.

Arnold spoke of various leaks in smaller water lines throughout the county and 15 leaks on the main lines.

“We’re waiting on parts to repair those lines,” Arnold said.

Meanwhile, Arnold said he is working on a plan to replace broken water meters throughout the county (approximate count is 800-to-900).

At his former job, Arnold said a third party was hired to perform an evaluation of the water system’s assets, to include testing meters for performance and accuracy.

“Something like that will give you a baseline of how your system is performing,” Arnold said.

He added that at his former job, the assessment revealed that the majority of meters tested were inaccurately reading the amount of water used by the customer.

“That’s lost revenue,” he said.

“To my knowledge, there are still meters in use today that were installed when the county’s water system was started back in 1981,” Arnold added.

He told the board that the cost of replacing just 500 meters is roughly $120,000.

County Manager Tim Wilson said he is studying the possibility of installing remote-read meters, which would save on the manpower it takes to manually read each water meter.

Wilson added that the county’s water tanks are not under any type of maintenance schedule.

“They need to be regularly inspected, inside and out,” Wilson said. “We have one particular tank that is in immediate need of cleaning.”

Arnold said the state recommends painting the outside of the tanks every five years and cleaning the inside every three years. He added that the one tank referenced by Wilson – the raw tank at the plant that is used to store water that is pumped from the wells – has five to six feet of dirt in the bottom.

“Our wells pump into that holding tank, we hit it with chlorine, and then it goes out into the system,” Arnold noted.

A maintenance schedule has been developed for the water tanks and will soon be put in place.

Also at last week’s special meeting, the county hired another engineering firm that will prepare a Land Use Concept plan for a 144-acre site along US 158 purchased by the county earlier this year.

Lisa Cherry, the county’s Planning and Zoning Director, told the board she contacted three firms regarding their interest in developing a concept plan. Of those three, two submitted bids: Summit Design & Engineering Company ($18,500), and The East Group ($20,000).

Cherry said staff recommends Summit Design. That firm was approved by a unanimous vote of the commissioners.

“This would be a conceptual plan, a broad brush, of how to develop this property,” stated Wilson, adding that the next step would be a developing a master plan for the site.

“They [Summit] will seek collaboration from this board…what you want to see at that site,” said Cherry.

Answering a question from Commissioner Jack Owens about Summit’s timetable, Cherry said the firm would be able to start immediately with the process to develop the conceptual design. That process, she added, will take three to four months to complete.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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