Pittsboro board discusses water solutions at Monday's meeting


PITTSBORO — The board of commissioners reviewed Pittsboro’s ongoing water contamination issues in its regular meeting Monday, and entertained a presentation on potential solutions.

The town’s drinking water is notoriously poor, having made national headlines for its severe PFAS (a family of carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) contamination. The News + Record has reported frequently on issues with the drinking supply — most recently that it is among the worst nationwide, according to a study by Consumer Reports and Guardian US.

Several commissioners commented on the story, lamenting frequent coverage of Pittsboro’s tainted water without, as they see it, commensurate reportage of their efforts to address the problem.

Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin suggested providing “some additional information regarding what the town of Pittsboro is trying to do in reference to trying to alleviate this problem.” For more than a year, the board of commissioners and town staff have weighed options to rectify their water problem, and as the News + Record previously reported, plans are underway to install a filtration system at Pittsboro’s water treatment facility that will remove about 90% of PFAS contamination in 1 million gallons of water per day.

Town staff expect the system to be operational in about a year. But the town is quickly outpacing its water capacity and must act soon to expand its supply, or development will have to stop.

“Growth can’t occur without utilities,” said Charles Archer of Freese and Nichols, a privately owned engineering, planning and consulting firm that Pittsboro hired to explore the town’s options.

Based on data provided by the town and from Chatham Park — the biggest contributor to Pittsboro’s escalating demand — Freese and Nichols estimated that Pittsboro will exceed its water capacity by 2024 if nothing changes.

“You will need more water supply than you can currently provide at your water treatment plant,” Archer said.

The town is permitted now to supply 2 million gallons of water (mgd) per day. Its treatment facility, however, can only process 1.8 mgd. By 2040, the town will need about 6 mgd, and 12 mgd by 2060.

Plans to expand the plant or build a new one are under consideration, but construction will likely complete after Pittsboro’s water needs have already exceeded current capacity.

An alternative, or additional solution, may be a partnership with Chatham County and Sanford to supply the town and some unincorporated areas with water from the latter’s treatment facility, as the News + Record previously reported.

“The overall premise of this study was to look at working together ­— Pittsboro, Chatham County and Sanford,” Archer said, “to probably more efficiently serve your respective citizens.” ­­­

Sanford can provide up to 41 million gallons of water per day, including that which it must reserve for Lee County residents. The plant does not have advanced filtration systems — the kind that expunge PFAS from the water supply — but plans are underway to install them. Even without added filtration, though, Sanford’s water has significantly lower PFAS levels than Pittsboro’s. Sanford draws from the Cape Fear River whereas Pittsboro draws from the Haw.

Besides drinking water constraints, Pittsboro must expand its sewer allocation before new developments demand more than is available.

“As you already know,” Archer said, “the town is in a crunch to deal with wastewater treatment. You’re at or near capacity.”

Sanford, again, may offer the most realistic and time-sensitive solution to Pittsboro’s quandary. Already the town is working toward construction of a force main that would funnel 2 mgd of wastewater to Sanford’s treatment facility. But that will only extend Pittsboro’s sewer capacity temporarily.

“What we’re projecting,” Archer said, “is that 2 mgd line will be full by 2025 ... That force main for Sanford will take you for about four more years. So now’s the time to begin planning what are going to be the wastewater treatment expansion needs and solutions for the town.”

The commissioners did not vote on any plans to address water and wastewater capacity solutions, but agreed that a timely decision will be paramount. The board plans to weigh its options at future meetings and in upcoming budget sessions.

“But I think the key point that we’d like to leave with you this evening,” Archer said, “is that you need to start working towards finding out what is the best option for you.”

Other news

• Ryan Vincent of Vincent Valuations attended Monday’s meeting to present the board with its findings from this year’s countywide revaluation. Vincent gave the same presentation last month to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and the Siler City Board of Commissioners.

Most home values across Chatham increased from four years ago, the last time a valuation was performed. Every property owner should already have received his or her reappraisal by mail. Chathamites displeased with their property valuations can protest through an appeal process at https://gisservices.chathamcountync.gov/taxrequest/. The deadline is 5 p.m. on May 6.

• Sharpe Patel CPA performed Pittsboro’s 2020 financial audit. Jay Sharpe presented his firm’s conclusions, which were overwhelmingly positive, to the board on Monday. Sharpe Patel issued an “unmodified opinion” in its report on the town’s financial standing.

“That is the best possible opinion you can receive on your town’s financial statements,” Sharpe said. “... An unmodified opinion basically means a clean opinion on financial statements — no issues. So that’s good news there.”

Town revenues have consistently increased over time, Sharpe said, even though property tax rates have not gone up in six years.

“So that’s something obviously that tax payers like to see,” he said.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.