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Cape Fear Public Utility Authority releases its annual report

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Benjamin Schachtman
/
The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority

Today, CFPUA will present its annual report to the Board of Commissioners. The report highlights the company’s progress with water, wastewater, and projects that ensure customers are getting safe and affordable water.

Major Projects

In 2019, CFPUA broke ground on two major projects: Sweeney Plant Enhancements and Kings Buff Raw Water Main.

The Sweeney Plant Enhancements broke ground in November 2019, after CFPUA committed to handling the PFAS contamination. The $43 million project is expected to reduce PFAS in raw water by 90 percent. Due to regular exchanges of Granular Activated Carbon media (GAC) in existing filters, CFPUA has already seen a reduction in PFAS levels in treated water. With the added cost of future GAC replacements in the future, the program will cost roughly $215 million over its lifetime; CFPUA remains adamant that Chemours, which is responsible for much of the PFAS pollution in the Cape Fear River, should pay for these costs (CFPUA's lawsuit against Chemours remains active).

The Kings Bluff Raw Water Transmission Main is intended to expand the raw water supply for utilities in Southeastern North Carolina. The main will run 14 miles adjacent to the existing water transmission main allowing for raw water to get to local utilities.

The $44.3 water transmission is a joint project between the CFPUA, Brunswick County, and Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority with CFPUA contributing $16.2 million to the project.

Currently, CFPUA can draw up to 23 million gallons per day (MGD) from the existing transmission main and once the new main is completed, it will allow an additional 15 million gallons per day (MGD) for the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant.

Over the years, CFPUA contributed to several projects to ensure citizens are getting access to proper water with quality sewer mains. Projects include:

  • Enterprise Resource Planning Replacement (ERP)
  • Castle Hayne Water Expansion
  • Northside WWTP Improvements and Generator Replacement
  • Richardson WTP Capacity Expansion 
  • Well Site 46 and 47 Improvement Project
  • Find It, Fix It Program  

Customer Service 

In May 2021, CFPUA enrolled approximately 1,700 customers in payment plans. The interest-free and fee-free payment plan gives customers an additional 12 months to catch up on bills. The customer service department saw an increase in delinquent amounts of past-due accounts after suspending delinquency procedures in February 2020.

After facing internal and external criticism, CFPUA scrapped a proposal to start using 'flow restrictors,' which would have drastically reduced the water flow to residences with delinquent bills. CFPUA initially defended the measure, pointing to the $2.7 million in unpaid bills and fees.

CFPUA moved to a monthly billing cycle in October after issuing bills on a bimonthly basis since opening in 2008. The shift to a monthly billing cycle will allow customers to receive smaller bills more frequently and more manageably.

Staff also evaluated water meter-reading routes across CFPUA’s service area to make the meter reading process more efficient.

CFPUA received $1 million of American Rescue Plans Funds (ARPA), and $500,000 from the City and County to start the CFPUA Covid Relief program. In partnership with New Hanover County, the City of Wilmington, and the Good Shepherd Center the program was launched September 2021.

The program allows CFPUA customers of New Hanover County whose household income is at or below 80 percent of the average area household income to apply for financial assistance. The program will pay part or all of their past due bills.

Alongside the new financial program starting, CFPUA has helped customers find assistance through other assistant programs such as New Hanover County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Homeowner Assistance Program and CFPUA Assist.

Sustainability

The Environmental Management and Sustainability Department incorporated staff and resources from the Public and the Environmental Policy Department to ensure CFPUA’s sustainability initiatives tie in with their core mission.

CFPUA’s staff published their first annual Resiliency Report to see how the organization may be affected by and mitigate its impact on climate change. The report included data on sea-level rise, increasing incidences of extreme heat, and other climate change-related things that might pose a threat for CFPUA infrastructure and employees working in the field.

The report also included an organization-wide inventory of greenhouse gas emissions tied to CFPUA operations and staff commutes. CFPUA’s partnership with Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority and other utilities, was able to develop a regional Water Supply Emergency Management Plan after staff saw success in preparing for climate change.

CFPUA studied 150 pump stations, of which 18 sites are in areas prone to flooding from stormwater, storm surge, or both. In order to protect the infrastructures, crews began adding elevating electrical generators and adding water-tight components.

CFPUA plans to increase studies by adding cameras at pump stations to monitor conditions during real-time major rain events.

In May, CFPUA received $8,000 in rebate funding from the N.C. Department of Environmental Qualifications for an electric vehicle charging station. The station includes two hybrid-electric car vehicles and one fully electric car. A charging station was delivered to Sweeney Plant in August and will be installed by the end of 2021.

Finances

CFPUA’s net position increased by $25.4 million during the fiscal year 2021. June 30, 2021, the net position was $616,477,942 compared to last year's $591,087,341. Many things contributed to the increase:

  • CFPUA paid down $15.6 million of debt with the current year's revenues
  • The current year's revenue funded the investments in CFPUA’s water and wastewater exceeded depreciation during the year by $5.9 million
  • Due to system development charges that exceeded budgeted estimates, the remaining revenues during the year exceeded operating expenses by $3.9 million

CFPUA limits the amount of debt used to fund capital investments which gives them more revenue to fund investments which improves their financial position.

The Long Range Planning Committee developed and approved the fiscal year 2022 Capital Improvement Program and the 10-year Capital Improvement Program for fiscal year 2022-2031.