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Jun 3, 2024

Garnering the Attention of Our Peers – and The President

Sponsored Content provided by Jennifer Adams - Chairwoman, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority

Last month, staff at Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) hosted a delegation of engineers and scientists from global engineering and design firm Stantec at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. Among Stantec’s many clients are U.S. water utilities seeking assistance in identifying, designing, and constructing treatment facilities to meet new federal drinking water regulations for GenX and five other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) finalized earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As the Stantec group headed into a conference room at Sweeney to hear about CFPUA’s successful journey to effective PFAS treatment, one Stantec engineer remarked, “You guys are world famous!”

As hyperbolic as that comment sounds, it’s actually close to the mark when it comes to PFAS and water treatment. Thanks to proactive steps by our Board and staff to address PFAS contamination caused by Chemours, drinking water treated by CFPUA has been far below maximum contaminant levels and the calculated hazard index set by EPA even before the regulations were finalized – since October 2022, when new granular activated carbon (GAC) filters came online at Sweeney. 

Thousands of U.S. water systems are beginning to consider how they will meet EPA’s stringent PFAS regulations, and many of them are looking to CFPUA for advice on selecting and operating effective PFAS treatment. Scores of groups like the one from Stantec, along with elected officials, state and federal regulators, utility operators, scientific researchers, students, and community members, have come to see the GAC filters at Sweeney and learn about our work there. (We offer an online signup sheet for those who want to request a tour.)

Of course, I take pride in highlighting this work and the attention it garners. It’s a testament to the skill and dedication of the more than 300 men and women who focus every day and night on providing quality water and wastewater services to our community. It also is just one example of forward-thinking that drives much of our work – preparation that can allow CFPUA to benefit from unexpected opportunities.

For example, in late April we were surprised by calls from the EPA and the White House. President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Michael Regan planned to announce the promulgation of updated regulations and funding intended to keep lead out of drinking water, and they were looking to make the announcement in a community whose utility already was using federal funding to meet the new rules. Among other things, the updated regulations require water utilities to inventory all the water service lines in their service area and replace certain older ones. Was CFPUA in a position, now, to demonstrate the replacement of one of those service lines in downtown Wilmington?

As I shared in January, CFPUA began proactively inventorying its service lines in 2020 and is nearly finished identifying the materials composition of service lines at our more than 70,000 service addresses. To date, we have found no lead service lines. This early work, however, helped to position CFPUA to receive $4.16 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding administered by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. This funding will be used to replace approximately 300 galvanized service lines that are suspected to have lead “gooseneck” connectors. 

CFPUA received the largest amount of funding among 30 North Carolina communities selected by the State and was one of the few to receive funding for service line replacement rather the inventory work CFPUA began more than three years ago. So, when EPA and the White House were looking for a community to demonstrate the replacement of a service line, they looked to CFPUA.

To be sure, this wasn’t the sole reason Wilmington was chosen for President Biden’s visit. Without a doubt, though, the proactive work by CFPUA staff beginning in 2020 made possible the service line replacement performed more than three years later on the day of the President’s visit.

So, is CFPUA world famous? In the world of water utilities, researchers, engineers, and regulators, we definitely are.

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