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Editorial: Town Should Continue To Encourage Water Conservation

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The Kure Beach Town Council was recently questioned by a local resident about the high cost of having an irrigation meter installed. The cost is $4,000.00 and the homeowner feels that's a financial burden just to have a separate meter installed to water their lawn and plants.

The Council informed the homeowner they set the cost at that level to discourage people from installing such meters. The purpose is to encourage conservation since watering a lawn from the normal meter tap also incurs a monthly charge for sewer discharge based on an owners metered water consumption. An irrigation meter only incurs a charge for the water, not the sewer. Various administrations over the years have followed the same method in order to make the cost higher and in turn encourage people to spray less water on their lawns.

The Town operates five wells drilled into an underground aquifer system. The close proximity of the wells to the ocean means the Town can only pump a limited amount of water every twelve hours from those wells (daily maximum yield) before pumping begins to negatively impact those sources of fresh drinking water. If the Town pumps too much water from those wells on a regular basis, they risk saltwater intrusion. That's a process where saltwater from the ocean basically moves into fill the void left vacant by the absence of fresh water. At that point, the Town would find itself facing a very costly situation including finding alternative sources of clean treated drinking water through desalinization of sea water, reverse osmosis or purchasing water from neighboring Carolina Beach who already has a limit that it operates within when pumping from 14 different wells to serve their customers.

The Town is absolutely correct in maintaining a fee schedule that discourages people from setting a timer and allowing their irrigation systems to rain treated well water across lawns and flower beds simply because they believe it is a requirement to maintain a rich and vibrant lawn.

It should be noted that while the $4,000.00 price tag to have an irrigation meter installed may seem far more expensive than the cost charged by other water systems in New Hanover County, those water systems have more wells and are located in less geographically restricted areas.

For example, Carolina Beach has 14 wells while Kure Beach has six. Of those six wells, only four are used on a daily basis. The other two are designated as low yield wells to be used only in emergency situations such as when demand is extremely high or there's a problem with another well.

Wrightsville Beach charges just a little less than Kure Beach at $3,100.00 for an irrigation meter. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has a few wells yet it draws the mass of its supply from the Cape Fear River miles north of the City of Wilmington.

Kure Beach currently has three (3) residential accounts with irrigation meters. Last year they used around 750,000 gallons total for irrigation.

Debbie Elliot expressed her concerns to the Kure Beach Council about the high cost of an irrigation meter during their July meeting. She said her monthly bill for water and sewer was around $75.00 per month for two adults in the colder months but when the weather warmed up and she began watering her lawn from her existing service meter, the bill (water + sewer) per month was around $440.00.

Let's do the math on that. If any residential customer in Kure Beach uses 30,000 gallons in a single month, the water and sewer charges would be a total of $438.70.  This excludes the charges for garbage, recycling and storm water that also appear on the monthly utility bill.

Each residential customer automatically gets a 2,500 gallon per month allowance for water and sewer at a cost of $37.

A customer using the minimum of 2,500 gallons per month would use 30,000 gallons in a year. So a person using 30,000 gallons a month to water their lawn and landscaping would use the same amount in one month that many people in Kure Beach use in an entire year.

Another way to look at it, a Kure Beach fire truck carries 1,000 gallons of water. So basically 30,000 gallons of irrigation would be the same as 30 fire trucks raining water on a lawn in one month.

The maximum daily yield for Kure Beach is 1.57 million gallons per day from all of their well sites.  (Within a 12 hour period). They have six permitted well sites, but only use four of them on a daily basis.

One day last month the Town pumped 900,000 or 0.9 million gallons in one day (a peak for that month). That's a large portion of their daily maximum pumping capacity.

In terms of supply and demand, allowing additional irrigation meters to be installed without the disincentive of having to pay the price for sewer discharge would encourage people to use more water than they need and jeopardize the Town's ability to meet the needs of it's customers in terms of supplying potable water for basic quality of life purposes such as drinking water, laundry, bathing, etc.
The Town Council should continue to find ways to encourage customers to conserve water.

Currently, without an irrigation meter, essentially a customer pays for the impact on both the water system infrastructure as well as the limited supply beneath their homes. Allowing people to get water cheaper than they currently enjoy and thus eliminating the discouraging factor of also paying a sewer discharge fee will open the door for overuse of a limited resource. That could lead to all taxpayers having to pay more to fund alternative sources of drinking water.

Kure Beach is a small Town and it's not hard to drive around many of their streets any day of the week and see the large majority of their lawns are healthy, green and well cared for and all but three have used irrigation meters. The rest just water their lawns from a tap connected to their regular service meter. Of course, with the exception of a large number of irrigation meters used by area Homeowners Associations which are already billed at a higher commercial rate and also obviously have a large impact of the Town's water supply.

There are currently 279 residential lots that can be developed in Kure Beach. That's not including the potential for redevelopment of smaller older beach cottages to make way for larger structures and increased residential density and increased water use. The Town should promote the use of rain barrels, targeted irrigation methods, schedules and other alternatives such as planting native species. The Council previously adopted a tiered billing system based on level of consumption. The more you use, the higher the rate. That's a pretty clear message to high-consumption customers. That message is, conserve or pay the price.