The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority board on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution authorizing CFPUA staff to move forward on key steps toward building upgrades at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant to filter GenX and other PFAS compound resulting from decades of discharges by Chemours and DuPont.
The resolution authorizes CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner to complete design and permitting steps for the $46 million project as well as obtain revenue bond funding and construction bids.
The project will add eight new granular activated carbon (GAC) filters to Sweeney. The GAC filters emerged as the best option for Sweeney following an extensive pilot study that also examined reverse osmosis and ion-exchange media. Models have shown that the GAC filters are expected to filter about 90 percent of the PFAS compounds in water drawn from the Cape Fear River.
“The approval of this resolution today reiterates our commitment to providing the best possible drinking water to the people who rely on it today and, just as importantly, to those who will rely on it 10, 20, or 50 years down the road,” said William Norris, CFPUA board chairman.
“Building these upgrades is certainly among the most important decisions undertaken by a CFPUA board in the organization’s 10-year history,” Norris said. “I’m honored to have joined with my fellow board members in moving forward with this crucial investment in our community.”
Under the current timeline, design should be complete in June, construction bidding will begin in July, and bonds will be sold in October. If the board approves a construction contract, work on the upgrades would start in November, with testing and full operation sometime in early 2022. Operating costs are estimated to be about $2.9 million per year.
Paying for the new filters is expected to result in an increase of about $5 per month on the average customer’s bill.
To reduce PFAS compounds in the interim, CFPUA staff has implemented a program to replace media in existing filters at Sweeney. Those steps have resulted in some reductions but are unsuited as a long-term solution.
The resolution approved by the board notes that “groundwater at the Chemours site has high levels of PFAS compounds and migrates to the Cape Fear River, and PFAS compounds have been detected in river sediment between Chemours’ site and CFPUA’s water intakes.”
In addition: “PFAS compounds continue to be in raw water at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant, despite Chemours’ assurances it no longer discharges its process wastewater to the Cape Fear River.”
As Chemours and its predecessor DuPont are largely responsible for the PFAS compounds that continue to be found in the Cape Fear, CFPUA has filed a federal lawsuit to recover costs and damages related to the companies’ releases from their chemical plant about 100 miles upriver from Wilmington.
Although the outcome of this lawsuit remains uncertain, a plan under consideration would place any monetary award to CFPUA in a trust to fully or partially fund payoff of the bonds, which would allow CFPUA to reduce customers’ rates proportionately.
Find out more
Frequently asked questions about the Sweeney GAC filter upgrades
Key numbers about the Sweeney GAC filter upgrades
Resolution approved by CFPUA board
Engineering drawings of the planned filters and full facility
Aerial showing the GAC filter beds, northeast perspective
Partial cutaway of new facility, northeast perspective
New facility, northeast perspective
New facility, plan perspective
June: Design complete
July: Bidding process begins
November: Construction begins
January 2020: Revenue bond sale
Early 2022: Testing and full operation