Elkin leaders are on their way to ensuring the town has a viable and reliable back-up to its existing water system, which will entail a $2 million project. The capital cost will be funded through a low-interest loan through the North Carolina Drinking Water Revolving Fund, once the town board approves contracts and legal documents for the project.
In the early 2000s, the region experienced a drought which threatened water use by citizens, so in response, the town of Elkin installed an emergency raw water line from the Yadkin River to the town’s water system. The town never had to utilize the emergency line, reported Ryan Hagar with WK Dickson, the engineering firm handling the project for the town.
One problem with that line is, instead of pumping river water into the reservoir, it is designed to pump it straight to the water treatment plant leaving no time for the sediment to settle, said Hagar. In addition, the line has been exposed due to erosion along Big Elkin Creek, leaving the water source vulnerable to outside elements.
The new capital project will allow for repair of the sluice gates at the reservoir which allow town employees to pull water from different levels in the reservoir. Only one of those gates is open and the others are frozen in place, Hagar explained. It also will entail keeping an existing 24-inch line in place to gravity feed water from the reservoir to the treatment plant and extend a 3,900-foot line from the Yadkin River to the reservoir.
This project also will include bank erosion control in the form of large boulder formations like J-hooks and boulder toes, which are like jetties in the water to redirect it and keep its impact from cutting away at the soil on the banks and minimizing damage. Most of this work will be done along Big Elkin Creek near the E&A Rail Trail, which Ward Marotti of WK Dickson said he hopes will create more recreational opportunities along the waterway, such as fishing.
Hagar explained that the town’s water treatment plant was built mid-1960s, with the capability of treating 3 million gallons a day. Water is pumped from Big Elkin Creek north of town into a 63-million-gallon reservoir where the sediment settles so that clearer water can then travel via gravity to the treatment plant.
A breakdown of how the loan could potentially be paid back was presented by Hagar, who said an 84-cent increase in the 5,000-gallon consumption water rate, taking it from $33 to $33.84 would supply the need revenue to cover the cost of the loan. But the commissioners will make a final decision on how the loan will be reimbursed.
The contracts for the construction phase of the project must be executed by Feb. 1, 2018, Hagar said.
During a board retreat of the town commissioners Friday, Commissioner Dr. Skip Whitman said of the emergency water line project, “This is not just a benefit for Elkin, but for all the areas where we sell water.”
Whitman also questioned the life expectancy of the water treatment plant. “I want to make sure the water treatment plant can do everything we’re planning to do.”
When Chatham Manufacturing was at its peak production, the plant was producing a couple million gallons of water a day. Now the average day produces 750,000 to 800,000 gallons a day, with a peak day being 1.6 million gallons, Hagar said.
While the water treatment plant is in good shape to supply that amount of water now, the town officials are hoping to be able to provide and sell water to other areas outside of town, such as Ronda and eastern Wilkes County. Public Works Director Robert Fuller said if the town sells an additional 1 million gallons of water, that could put peak days at 2.6 million gallons, which he said makes him nervous about the plant’s capability of producing on a regular basis.
Fuller said over the last few years, every piece of equipment in the water treatment plant has been updated. He said the state recommends planning for a new plant, or an addition to an existing plant, when the system is at 80 percent capacity, and shovels need to be in the ground when it reaches 90 percent.
Moving forward, Fuller said the town needs to work on identifying and correcting leaks in the system’s pipes. “In 1998, of every 100 gallons we made, we lost 88 gallons,” he said, adding that at the time, they opened holes under West Main Street that “you could put a Mack truck in.”
The town’s water system is down to losing 30 percent of the water made now, but Fuller said, “That’s still a lot of water and it is mostly in the east system.”
“We’ve had three engineer systems in here trying to find the water we’re losing, and we can’t find it,” said Town Manager John Holcomb.
Whitman and Commissioner Terry Kennedy agreed that if the town continues to plan to sell water to outside areas, the water treatment plant will need improvements or expansion to handle the load.
“What we’re talking about is a good thing, to expand the water system to keep up with the demand; having to repair and expand to keep up with present demand is a whole nother world,” Whitman said. “I want the board to understand, to go where we’re going it might take an investment to make it work.”
Hagar said an expansion of a plant his group is working with now is cost $6 million, but that project had other obstacles it’s had to overcome that Elkin wouldn’t face. “But that’s oranges and apples,” he said of comparing Elkin to the other town’s project. “I haven’t studied whether you can increase incrementally, basically you’ve got to make it bigger, mimic what you have or add incrementally to make it one and a half times bigger.”
Fuller said the existing plant is a good one, and he’d recommend just taking what is there and flip it over and mirror it in an addition to the plant, rather than construct an entirely new facility.
Whitman said he was glad to hear the existing treatment plant is “solid,” and to learn that “it’s not going to be $750,000, but I know it won’t be $10 million.”
“We’re still a long way from seeing this happen, but we’ve got to be making steps to make it happen,” he added.
Projects like those involving the water system are necessary and make life better, even though they may not be the “pretty projects,” said Whitman, who added they are the things “we take for granted every day.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.