Wrightsville Beach races to supplement water supply before summer rush after contaminated well shut down

Published: Apr. 11, 2019 at 6:13 AM EDT
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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (WECT) - The Town of Wrightsville Beach is in a race against time to supplement its water supply before the summertime population boom.

One of its most productive water wells has been shut down since January because of chemical contamination.

In the search for water, the most likely supplemental source will be from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and those negotiations are ongoing, said Town Manager Tim Owens in an interview with WECT on Wednesday.

"I didn't think we would be in this position," said Owens. "In theory, we thought when all this Chemours news came around, we thought we would be in pretty good shape."

Since news broke in June 2017, the public has known the Chemours Company had released PFAS chemicals into the Cape Fear River and water supply since the 1980′s. Wrightsville Beach is supplied by groundwater wells from the PeeDee Aquifer, not surface water from the Cape Fear River.

In January 2019, Owens said Wrightsville Beach officials met with CFPUA, which said it believed the town’s No. 11 well could be contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

“After leaving that meeting, we turned well No. 11 off,” said Owens.

Well No. 11 had been shut down in July 2017.

CFPUA and Wrightsville Beach conducted independent tests on the water from well No. 11, and confirmed that it was indeed tainted with elevated levels of PFAS.

Well No. 11 water test results in February revealed a total PFAS concentration of 621.16 parts per trillion (ppt). This level includes a concentration of 37 ppt for GenX, which is below the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ health advisory of 140 ppt.

The town also sampled nearby wells, and discovered well No. 6 was also contaminated but the town decided to keep that one operational because PFAS levels were not as high as well No. 11, said Owens.

“The positive results for Gen X are likely a result of well No. 11’s close proximity to an Aquifer Storage and Recovery Well that Cape Fear Public Utility Authority operates approximately 3,500 feet from this well,” according to a town press release. “An ASR well injects drinking water in the aquifer during off-peak water consumption periods and removes that water during peak demand periods.”

There is no timeline for turning well No. 11 back on, Owens said, but CFPUA is taking action to remove water from aquifer and the ASR well in hopes of reducing containment levels over time.

Last Wednesday, CFPUA agreed to offer Wrightsville Beach a discounted rate for water — 65 cents per 1,000 gallons instead of $3.48 per 1,000 gallons.

“An interconnect already exists between CFPUA’s and the town’s water systems, for use in case of emergencies,” according to a CFPUA news release.

The town needs to acquire the necessary permit and votes before the CFPUA negotiation is complete, said Owens, who added he believes the water will be flowing in May.

Water demand in Wrightsville Beach increases from approximately 600,000 gallons a day in the winter season to 1.6 million gallons a day peak in summer months. More people come to the island increases the demand, said Owens.

The Town of Wrightsville Beach also has an ongoing federal lawsuit against Chemours that will likely take a long time to conclude, said Owens.

“We have to take care of it. We need clean water.”

Wrightsville Beach resident and business owner Jazz Undy said he is very upset to learn the pollution from Chemours is still creating trouble for his community.

“I’m very angry about it to be honest with you," said Undy. “I’m not surprised. I’m very disappointed that corporations lie the way they do. It’s just horrible. It’s just not fair. They make these products and they say one and they’re doing these other things, and it’s all just to make a dime. That’s not right. We’re suffering and that company should be shutdown.”

Undy has lived in Wrightsville Beach for two years, and owned Wrightsville Beach Art Co. for about five years. He said he only drinks bottled water and does not drink any public tap water in Wrightsville Beach.

”I personally don’t drink any water from around here after what happened in Flint," said Undy. “I don’t think it can be trusted. Who knows what’s in where and why and how?"

While Undy is frustrated, he said he understands that the town must take action.

“I’m not happy, because there are a lot of things that need to be addressed. We have to address it. We have to take care of it. It’s not a cost we can override and put on somewhere else. We have to take care of it. We need clean water. Water to drink. Potable water," said Undy.

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