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There are stories and there are stories that get done on deadline. This was one of the latter.

The lede was confusing and uninformative. Instead of trying to summarize the article’s content in detail, the lede would have been more effective if it gave some background on the Orange Water and Sewer Authority and why the utility is contentious and important.

OWASA is under increased scrutiny because of its plans to tap Jordan Lake for future water use.

From the OWASA website:

“OWASA also has an allocation of 5 percent of Jordan Lake’s water supply storage capacity, which can yield about 5-6 million gallons per day (MGD). Jordan Lake will become increasingly important to OWASA in the event of severe drought or other emergency – especially during the next 25 years until the expanded Quarry Reservoir is online.”

The utility is paying $12,000 a year to the state for the right to access its allocation in the future. OWASA says that it may lose its future right to access if it does not start the process to formally demonstrate need.

Many residents believe that the utility and the people it serves should focus on conservation instead of expanding the water supply, said Chapel Hill Town Council Member Donna Bell.

“They are concerned that the business needs of OWASA might outweigh the environmental needs of the region,” Bell said during an interview during Monday’s Town Council meeting.

Because of the environmental impact of the utility and the recent debate over Jordan Lake, residents are especially concerned about OWASA’s actions. This is why a possible Clean Water Act violation is a big deal.

The violation had to do with the amount of manganese released, but the effects of manganese were not outlined.

This was an instance of my inability to find an appropriate answer. In humans, excess levels of manganese can harm brain development in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But manganese was not released into the drinking water supply, but into a creek. The effects that it has on nature are less well known.

The most striking information that I found was that manganese cannot break down in the environment. It can only change its form or become attached to or separated from particles, according to the same Centers for Disease Control website.

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By Brian Fanney

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority outlined a permit violation and infrastructure improvements over the past year in a report to the Chapel Hill Town Council Monday.

The utility is contesting a possible violation of the Clean Water Act committed in December 2010, while beginning to use a water recycling system and dealing with the delays in infrastructure improvements.

While these infrastructure changes have impacted the budget, rate increases are expected to be in line with inflation.

“They exist to provide water to the municipalities at the lowest cost possible,” Town Council Member Donna Bell said.

Possible Environmental Permit Violation

A possible violation of the Clean Water Act occurred at the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant, where water used to clean filters is discharged into the adjacent creek several times a year.

In December 2010, the North Carolina Division of Water Quality notified OWASA of a possible permit violation. The level of manganese in the released water was higher than 200 parts per million and had released a color that was visible on the banks of the creek, Spokesperson Greg Feller said.

“It was a relatively small amount and it was for a short duration of time,” Sustainability Manager Patrick Davis said.

OWASA is asking the state to rescind the notice because the permit neither includes color restrictions nor a cap on the amount of manganese in water released to the creek, Feller said.

Feller said OWASA is not yet aware if there will be a civil penalty, but the state is considering rescinding the violation notice.

The Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant had no violations this year, according to the report.

Excess Revenue

OWASA collected $2.7 million more than expected in the last 12 months, according to the report.

This was partly due to a delay in UNC-Chapel Hill’s water reclamation system coming fully online. Because UNC-CH used less reclaimed water than expected, it was forced to buy more expensive potable water, Davis said.

“Reclaimed water is used water that comes to a wastewater treatment plant, is treated in accordance with federal and state standards, and is suitable for reuse for allowed purposes under state regulation,” Davis said.

At UNC-CH, reclaimed water is being used for irrigating athletic fields, flushing toilets at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and in chiller plants, which help cool buildings, according to the report.

Also, a delay in a sewer replacement project caused OWASA to spend less than expected on capital improvements, Feller said.

“This $5.5 million project was (and is) the largest project in our capital program at this time,” Feller said.

OWASA spent $3.4 million less than expected on infrastructure improvements. The total money budgeted for capital improvements for the last 12 months was $9.8 million.

“Usually capital improvement budgets don’t seem to shift a whole lot because capital improvement projects are long range planned things,” Bell said.

The same amount of money will be spent on the project, but more of that money will be spent in the next fiscal year, Feller said.

Budgeted chemical and personnel costs were also lower than anticipated according to the report.

Rising Rates

Despite a budget surplus, OWASA plans to increase water and sewer rates by 2 percent starting in October, according to the report.

Primary reasons for the increase are higher chemical costs and expected increases in maintenance costs for water and sewer lines, drinking water and wastewater plants, as well as other equipment, according to the report.

The sewer replacement will be one of the major maintenance costs, Feller said.

Based on current assumptions about future water sales and future operating, maintenance, and capital improvement expenditures, OWASA expects rate increases over the next several years to be at or near the overall rate of inflation, according to the report.