Chatham planning for future water, wastewater needs

Posted 1/24/20

Chatham County’s Comprehensive Water and Wastewater Utility Master Plan is more than just a plan for infrastructure improvements for the county and its municipalities — it’s a scenario-based …

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Chatham planning for future water, wastewater needs

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Chatham County’s Comprehensive Water and Wastewater Utility Master Plan is more than just a plan for infrastructure improvements for the county and its municipalities — it’s a scenario-based software-based program designed to help the county and its three municipalities determine how best to meet water and wastewater needs for the next 50 years.

The plan itself began to take shape with the county’s 2017 comprehensive plan, a document which established policies, goals and implementation steps for the next 25 years. The plan suggested the county invest in a project which would focus on its long-term water and wastewater demands, so Chatham contracted with Hazen and Sawyer, a Raleigh-based company that specializes in water and wastewater engineering, in May of 2018, paying them about $110,000 for the plan and its corresponding software. Hazen and Sawyer worked with Chatham County, Goldston, Siler City and Pittsboro to develop the new regionalized water and wastewater plan, incorporating data to create realistic population flow projections for the next 50 years. From that data, Hazen and Sawyer created potential alternatives for each system to meet anticipated water supply demands.

The program gives the county a “dashboard,” a computer interface that incorporates all the projected water and wastewater needs, alternatives and potential costs, allowing each jurisdiction to “make an informed decision on a path forward,” according to the project’s Executive Summary. Within the dashboard, each alternative is split into two phases, enabling the user to input start and end dates for each phase to let the user “evaluate the cost-benefit of deferring alternatives or components of alternatives to a later date.” As a whole, the county and its jurisdictions — except Goldston, which appears to have its supply demands met for the time period with its interconnections to Sanford — received 10 infrastructure improvement alternatives to consider with the company also making a final, favored recommendation.

“Chatham County appreciates the opportunity to have partnered with the Town of Pittsboro, Siler City, and Goldston in undertaking this project,” said Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne. “This plan took a long-range view of what utility infrastructure and capacity needs may look like over the next several decades. Considering the anticipated growth of the county, particularly within our municipalities, exploring the various alternatives that may be available to meet the water and wastewater demands associated with this growth is critical.”

Here’s a breakdown of the comprehensive master plan by jurisdiction:

Chatham County

Chatham County has three water districts. The Asbury and Southwest Districts are likely to meet all demands for the next 50 years through their interconnections to Sanford, according to the plan. The North District, which is currently meeting demands via an existing Water Treatment Plant on the east side of Jordan Lake and an interconnection with Durham, is the area the plan anticipates demand will increase — from 3.3 millions of gallons a day to 4.5 millions of gallons a day. The agreement with Durham is set to expire in 2029, but it is “understood by both parties” that it can be extended until Chatham County can build a new water treatment plant on the west side of Jordan Lake, according to the executive summary. The county will also create another water district in Moncure; it has committed to provide 1 million gallon a day of water to the Moncure megasite via an interconnection with Sanford.

The plan offers 10 alternatives for the county which include a variety of options that can be used in different combinations. Several of the alternatives call for abandoning the current water plant in lieu of connecting with Sanford or the construction of the new plant. Other options include maintaining the current plant with some other combination of connecting with Sanford and a new plant.


Chatham County does not have any wastewater plants.


Pittsboro is expected to see the most growth in Chatham County, with the plan’s data projections showing a six-fold increase in water demand. That demand for water is expected to grow from 1.5 million gallons per day to 11 million gallons per day in the next 50 years. The town’s current water supply comes from a 2 million gallon per day plant that pulls from the Haw River, with its capacity expected to be exceeded by 2024. The town is currently engaged with CDM Smith, an engineering consultant, to evaluate expanding the existing plant.

But the county’s master plan notes that investing in that project would likely cost more than other alternatives in consideration of the amount of money needed to remove the high level of contaminants recently identified in the Haw.

The plan calls for 10 different alternatives, with four calling for the town to abandon its current water treatment plant located along the Haw River. The plan suggests the town could, in some combination, partner with Sanford or connect with a new Jordan Lake water treatment plant the county is considering buildilng. Regardless of whether the town chooses to expand its current plant, it would only be able to produce 6 million gallons per day — far below the projected need — making interconnections a necessity at some point.


Pittsboro’s wastewater needs are projected to go from .5 million gallons per day to 6 million gallons a day in 50 years, an 11-fold increase. The town’s current plant, which is only .75 million gallons per day, is nearly at capacity already on paper, a subject the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners has been discussing as each new sewer request is made to the board. The town is currently in the process of permitting a new pump station and a pipeline that will connect with Sanford’s wastewater plant. The process has been ongoing for several years as the town’s capacity continues to shrink. Chatham Park is also in the process of constructing a .5 million gallon per day reclamation plant, which takes wastewater and reclaims it for industrial and irrigation purposes.

The Chatham County Water and Wastewater Utility Master Plan offers three wastewater alternatives for consideration for Pittsboro. They include some combination of a new wastewater treatment site near its current facility, a new wastewater plant with a discharge to the Western Wake Outfall near Moncure and/or increasing the amount of wastewater it will convey to Sanford.

“This is an opportunity for all of Chatham communities and utilities to coordinate their infrastructure needs,” Pittsboro Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck said. “We all have different reasons for looking at what needs to be done, but the fact of the matter is we all need to do something.”

Gruesbeck said the plan’s “high altitude look” made it clear that the “best way to improve is to seek out collaboration in any way we can.” He notes that the town is going to continue its collaboration efforts with both the town of Sanford and the Chatham County systems.

Siler City

Siler City’s growth is projected to be at a steady pace over the next 50 years. The town currently gets its drinking water from the Rocky River via the Charles L. Turner Reservoir constructed to pool the river. Its plant has a capacity for 4 million gallons per day, which the plan estimates will be exceeded in 2023. The plan notes that the reservoir will not support expanding the current plant and therefore the town would have to consider constructing another plant somewhere else or interconnections with other systems. The plan also notes that Siler City’s water usage is significantly higher per capita than other areas of the county. The plan suggests that staff identify and address leaks in the system or illegal taps in an attempt to bring down water usage. Alternatives include connecting with Sanford and the potential of adding a wastewater discharge upstream of the reservoir to increase flow by nearly 2 million gallons per day.


Siler City’s wastewater flows are projected to increase from 2.4 million gallons per day (prior to the opening of Mountaire’s plant) to 7 million gallons per day in 50 years. The current plant is only permitted for 4 million gallons per day. With the additional 1.5 million gallons a day allocated to Mountaire and an additional 1 million gallons per day set aside for the Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site, the plant is nearing capacity, at least on paper.

The mater plan suggests some combination of expanding the current plant, expanding it with a new discharge upstream of the water reservoir, a pipeline to the Sanford wastewater treatment plant and/or constructing of a land application facility — a place where cleaned discharge is applied to land rather than going directly into the river as it does now. The plan also noted that the town suffers extensive infiltration and inflow, or stormwater making its way into the sewer system. It suggested some expansion may be avoided if the town is able to address those issues. It also noted that plans that do not include interconnection to Sanford were less economical than other choices.

Siler City Mayor John Grimes noted that the town is already collaborating with the county for its water needs, having secured an additional 1 million gallons per day reserve from the county’s system. The town is also already working on a two-phased improvement and expansion plan for its wastewater treatment plant.

“It’s important to consider all options and the town will continue to work with the engineers and explore alternatives for future expansion as options are presented,” Grimes said. “I have great confidence that the Siler City Board of Commissioners will weigh the advice of specialists from both the private sector and the government sector and do what is in the best interest of the citizens of Siler City.”


The Chatham County Water and Wastewater Utility Master Plan’s recommendation for meeting the county’s regional water and wastewater demands includes all three jurisdictions — Chatham County, Pittsboro and Siler City — connecting with Sanford to meet its water needs in phase one. The second phase would include both Pittsboro and Chatham County demolishing their current facilities and co-developing a new water treatment plant on Jordan Lake while Siler City expands its current facility. Expansion in Siler City also requires the town construct a discharge for its wastewater plant five miles upstream of the reservoir.

The recommendation notes that this option may not be the most cost-effective, but could be implemented more quickly than other alternatives and would “improve system resiliency” by relying on two different sources of water. In addition, the option will provide flexibility for Pittsboro’s wastewater treatment options as the water flows from Sanford could offset its wastewater flows back to Sanford.

The recommendation also notes that it would be the best alternative in terms of quality of drinking water for Pittsboro in consideration of the additional costs to remove contaminants that are in the Haw River, noting that both Jordan Lake and the Cape Fear River, where Sanford gets its water, have far lower levels of 1,4 Dioxane and PFAS chemicals than the Haw River.

“The master plan gave analysis to a range of alternatives that incorporated measures that can enhance long-term economic, financial, operational, and environmental sustainability,” LaMontagne said. “While this plan suggests a number of options, each community will determine what direction works best for them, operationally and financially. What’s important is that there are identifiable opportunities to meet these future needs, both locally and regionally.”

The Chatham County Water and Wastewater Utility Master Plan’s recommendations are not binding to any of the jurisdictions. The plan and its corresponding dashboard are the start, according to the county. Now it’s up to policy makers in each of the jurisdictions to make decisions as to how best to move forward.

Casey Mann can be reached at


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