News Feature | February 3, 2014

North Carolina Utilities Take Regional Approach To Pipeline

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

capefear

Could a major water project in Southeastern North Carolina manage to provide pricy infrastructure upgrades—without plaguing utilities with sky-high costs?

That's the claim of utility officers backing a plan to build an expensive new pipeline. They say a regional approach to infrastructure funding will make this outcome possible. 

The aim is to "to build a new water pipeline and pump another 60 million gallons a day to the region from the Cape Fear River near Lock and Dam No. 1 in Bladen County," according to Star News Online

The project is ambitious: It will be carried out over the next three decades. The Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority is taking the lead. Don Betz, executive director, said the new pipe, a 60-inch underground line, "will be able to transport the majority of water the region will need for the next 30 years," the report said.

According to Betz, the price tag will be manageable: "Everyone shares the costs by spreading it over three counties and a large number of utility customers," he said in the report. 

Some utility officials are still wary of the price. "With the cost to customers still to be determined, at least one utility says it's ready to go its own way if the massive project drives up the cost of water," the report said. 

The project aims to address utilities' need for more water. "Although the region is surrounded by water, the majority of our drinking water comes from one place," the report said. 

Population growth in the area is driving demand. "For the county to meet our customers' water needs into the future, the county will need additional capacity in the raw water distribution system," Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy said in the report. 

Spreading infrastructure costs over multiple utilities is just one way to fund sorely-needed repairs when budgets are tight. Many water providers are looking for financing alternatives. 

Engineering company Black & Veatch addressed the financial pressures on providers in its 2013 Water Utility Report: "From coast to coast, financial concerns weighing on U.S. water utilities impact nearly every aspect of their operations. Pursuit of alternative financing, shared revenue, and public-private partnerships remain a limited endeavor for most utilities," it added. 

The American Water Works Association explains the problem of infrastructure financing like this: "AWWA and others have documented that water and wastewater infrastructure in North America is aging and that many communities must significantly increase their levels of investment in its repair and rehabilitation to protect public health and safety and to maintain environmental standards."

For more, check out Water Online's Solution Center For Utility Managers.

Image credit: "Cape Fear River at Campbellton Landing," © 2011 Gerry Dincher, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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