The Orange Water and Sewer Authority, which delivers water services to the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities, released its annual wastewater report card for 2022 on Feb. 20.
The report card includes information about wastewater overflows and chemicals released during the year.
Mary Darr, the general manager of operations for OWASA treatment plants and laboratories, said the authority was happy with its overall results this year. All of the regulatory Environmental Protection Agency requirements were met.
In 2022, OWASA measured more than 100,000 pounds of nitrogen in local wastewater and almost 2,000 pounds of phosphorus, which are 18.7 percent and 80.6 percent below the regulatory limits, respectively.
In biosolids, which OWASA separates from liquids at its treatment plant, none of the recorded substances — including lead, mercury and arsenic, among others — were above the regulatory limits.
“This is the Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant’s 13th consecutive year with 100 percent compliance and no violations at the WWTP," Wil Lawson, OWASA's wastewater treatment plant and biosolids recycling manager, said in an email.
All of the community’s wastewater is carried by about 350 miles of underground sewer pipes that are maintained by OWASA. When the wastewater gets to the plant, the authority begins the process of treating the water so it can be reused for non-drinking purposes or released into Morgan Creek.
OWASA replaced 1,141 feet of sewer lines and installed more than 2,800 feet of new sewer lines in 2022.
The organization is required to test five days per week, excluding holidays. It has an in-house lab that is certified to run several analyses and it utilizes a contract lab for other tests.
"We're so excited to put out the annual wastewater report card to the community so that they can see all of the work and planning and effort that our staff puts into making sure that we're good stewards of the environment, that we're cleaning the wastewater before it returns to the stream," Darr said.
Lawson said OWASA would like to continue to reduce nutrients released into local waterways and said he anticipated the authority accomplishing that goal through additional monitoring at the wastewater treatment plant, training and consultants.
Crystal Lee Pow Jackson, a research environmental scientist at RTI International, said the OWASA report provides a high-level, easily-accessible overview of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro wastewater for the year.
Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, the director of the environmental health and water quality program at RTI said that, nationwide, we should be aware of, per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) that contaminate water.
“PFAS is a big contaminant and class of focus in North Carolina," Redmon said. “Studies are showing that PFAS are also present in biosolids and potentially wastewater.”
Lawson said consumers should “be aware of what to flush and what not to flush” in order to keep the water system clean.
He also encourages Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents to tour the OWASA facility to see the process firsthand.
“This will give a great insight into the trained OWASA team that works around the clock to treat the towns' wastewater to the highest quality protecting the stream and providing beneficial reuse products back to the community such as biosolids (fertilizer) for local farmers and reclaim water for irrigation and other uses on UNC’s campus," Lawson said in an email.
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