PITTSBORO — The first report to the Pittsboro Town Board of Commissioners from the municipality’s newly-formed Water Quality Task Force raised several questions for the board at its most recent board meeting.
The Water Quality Task Force was created by Pittsboro commissioners late last year to address significant amounts of unregulated chemicals found in the town’s sources of drinking water. The members of the board, which number more than a dozen, were appointed at the last December meeting of the board. Several reports over last year showed Pittsboro had higher than recommended levels of 1,4 Dioxane and PFAS — chemicals considered carcinogenic — traced to discharges by municipalities upstream of the town’s Haw River water treatment plant.
In a joint meeting of the board and the task force in January, the board laid out its expectations of the task force’s work. The scope included research into 1,4 Dioxane and PFAS, short-term ideas for solutions, questions the board should pose to the regulating bodies in Raleigh on the subject, and regulations for preventing upstream discharges and notification requirements for town’s downstream.
In the task force’s memo to the board at its May 11 meeting, the group’s stated purpose was “identifying needs, and short term and long term solutions to those needs” to address the presence of unregulated chemicals in the water. The report noted the group was “in the process of compiling suggested in-home reverse osmosis treatment systems.” The task force memo suggested the town could create a grant or loan program for installation of in-home reverse osmosis water filtration systems with the costs begin recouped using a monthly fee on the water bill. The group suggested partnering with students at Central Carolina Community College to help install and maintain the systems.
The task force also suggested installing “water refill station hubs placed strategically located throughout the town” to supply water treated through reverse osmosis for “community members who may not be able to afford installation and maintenance of home treatment options.” The task force also suggested supplying “large water storage tanks for public schools and health care facilities by the beginning of the 2020 fall semester,” though no estimates of the cost of were provided.
For the long-term, the memo said the task force was still looking into “effective treatment” at the town’s water plant, including the results of a pilot study of treatment options currently underway at the facility. In addition, it suggested partnering with Durham, Chatham County and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) to obtain access to “cleaner source water from Jordan Lake.”
Upon receiving the report in the May 11 agenda packet, the commissioners noted appreciation for the work of the task force, but raised specific concerns. Some commissioners noted that the task force was given specific guidance in January about the main purpose of the task force, but several items were not addressed in the report. In particular, Commissioner Micheal Fiocco wanted to know more about what can be done with “folks upstream” who are discharging into the Haw River.
“I didn’t see a lot about that,” Fiocco said. “That’s one I’m really quite keen on — getting them to do the leg work on what’s possible and how to go about affecting change upstream.”
Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin reiterated concerns about the focus of the task force asking, “Is this really what we want from them?” She also raised concerns about the task force creating a separate web and social media presence outside of something managed by town staff, something else the task force report noted the group was doing. Baldwin said she believed the group should be “reporting back to us before putting anything on a website.”
Commissioner Kyle Shipp stated that he wanted the task force to have a slot at an upcoming meeting to have the task force available to present and answer questions rather than supply a simple report. He also requested that the group provide all of the minutes of its meetings to the board for its review. Fiocco agreed, noting he had anticipated “regular reports” from the group, not a single “report after four or five meetings” adding he thought the group “would have performed differently then they are.”
The board agreed that the task force, whose members were not in attendance at the board meeting, had the potential to play an important role in the decision making process. Commissioner John Bonitz asked for reaction about the specific recommendations the report made. Fiocco noted concerns about the “optics of people waiting in line” at a pump station for water treated with reverse osmosis for residents that can’t afford in-home systems. He also questioned how the town would regulate that type of service. He asked if it would be free and if not, how would they charge.
It was also noted by Mayor Jim Nass that several of the recommendations were already things the board had begun discussions on including in-home treatment systems and the on-going pilot program at the town’s water treatment plant.
Bonitz, even with the board’s reservations, said he was “very pleased” the task force was “continuing the work.” He agreed that the task force would benefit by having more “response” from the board as to its direction.
Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.