Brunswick County receives crucial permit for Northwest Water Treatment Plant advanced water treatment project
BOLIVIA, N.C. – Brunswick County has received a key permit from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) today, marking a major step forward in the County’s efforts to provide its more than 40,000 retail water customers and about another 40,000 retail customers served by its wholesale customers with drinking water treated with the most protective water treatment system—low-pressure reverse osmosis.
The official National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is a significant milestone as it will give the Board of Commissioners the ability to consider all the bid alternates for the Northwest Water Treatment Plant expansion and upgrades project. Three of these options include the installation of low-pressure reverse osmosis units to remove contaminants such as GenX and other PFAS compounds from the water sourced from the Cape Fear River.
“Brunswick County is committed to providing safe, clean drinking water to all of our customers, and receiving this permit is a major step forward,” Chairman Frank Williams said. “I am grateful for the hard work our County administration and public utilities leadership and staff have invested in this important effort to add advanced treatment to our water treatment plant, and we look forward to this project being completed.”
All of the County’s water customers and wholesale water customers receive either all or part of their water from the Northwest Water Treatment Plant. The County received a draft NPDES permit in November 2019 but needed the official permit to be eligible for a low-pressure reverse osmosis system.
“This announcement is the result of nearly two years of communication and partnership between our organizations,” Public Utilities Director John Nichols said. “Our staff has worked incredibly hard to support and respond to any inquiries from DEQ, and we are pleased to see that these efforts have led us closer to installing this vital treatment system to protect our drinking water from PFAS contamination and other pollution in the years to come.”
It is ultimately up to the Board of Commissioners to determine which bid alternate to proceed with. Moving forward, the Board will receive the bids for the project’s four bid alternates by March 5. It is anticipated that the Board will issue a notice of award for the bids at the April 20 regular meeting and will issue a notice to procced in May.
“We commend the efforts of the Brunswick County Public Utilities team, county leadership, our engineering firm CDM Smith, and our partners at DEQ for working together to ensure we earned this crucial permit for our project,” County Manager Randell Woodruff said. “We want our customers to know that we will continue to work diligently on this effort and that we appreciate their concern for our water quality and their support in this endeavor.”
The $137 million project will also expand the plant’s conventional treatment facility from 24 million gallons per day to 45 million gallons per day firm capacity (one filter out of service). The low-pressure reverse osmosis system is designed to recover between 85 and 92 percent of the intake water, resulting in a peak low-pressure reverse osmosis treatment capacity of up to 41 million gallons per day. With a population of more than 135,000 and growing, the additional capacity is crucial to supporting the projected increase of residential, commercial, and industrial water use in the county.
Since the discovery of GenX and other PFAS compounds in the Cape Fear River in June 2017, Brunswick County has conducted weekly water samples at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant to measure and track PFAS contamination. While all water samples have fallen below the health advisory levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the County is concerned about the levels of PFAS contaminants present in our water, most of which are unregulated and have limited or no research on their effects.
The County made the proactive decision in 2018 to install a low-pressure reverse osmosis system at the plant to ensure the removal of this contamination and to remain below any future health advisories likely to be established. A pilot low-pressure reverse osmosis program conducted at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant in 2018 did not detect any GenX or other PFAS contaminants in the treated drinking water.
Additionally, the County has joined other utilities in the region to sue DuPont and Chemours to make Chemours stop polluting our primary source of drinking water. The County is also seeking monetary damages from Chemours to hold it responsible for the millions of dollars the County is spending to install a new treatment system to counteract the contaminants it wrongfully discharged into the Cape Fear River.
The County relies on the authority and research of federal and state agencies like the EPA, NCDHHS, and DEQ to help find answers to questions concerning PFAS’ health and environmental effects and to hold Chemours and other contaminators accountable for polluting the County’s drinking water source. These agencies often have more access to certain financial and informational resources that local governments and public utilities typically do not.
More information about the Northwest Water Treatment Plant project, water sample test results, and water quality is on the County’s website at https://www.brunswickcountync.gov/genx/
Additional websites to learn more about PFAS and who to contact for toxicology or epidemiology questions are also posted below.
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