Frequently Asked Questions:
What is reclaimed water?
Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater that has been processed through advanced treatment systems to meet water quality standards. These standards are mandated and monitored by the State of North Carolina. Reclamation is a sustainable use of water that minimizes the amount of potable water that the County must withdraw from Jordan Lake. The use of reclaimed water is highly monitored and regulated and must meet higher standards than a typical municipal facility. In an effort to keep the public informed, signs are placed in areas where reclaimed water will be utilized reminding people not to drink the water.
What does reclaimed water have to do with Briar Chapel Communities?
Briar Chapel and Fearrington Village were ahead of their time. They are “off-grid” communities -- in other words, they are not tied to large regional wastewater services. As such, they require a decentralized solution for water management and utilities. Decentralized water reclamation has been part of Briar Chapel since the community’s inception. Many of the community’s attractive common areas are irrigated -- i.e., brought to life and sustained -- using reclaimed water.
The benefits of such a system are many, including keeping the water within the same watershed, reducing demand on potable water systems, reducing homeowner cost for water usage, as well as irrigating shared green spaces and lawns. Buying potable water from Chatham County (Briar Chapel’s water source) to irrigate would cost the community hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Using reclaimed water is a more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to irrigation than utilizing potable water to irrigate.
What does ONSWC have to do with Briar Chapel?
ONSWC is a private utility (regulated by the North Carolina Utilities Commission) and the owner of the water reclamation system in Briar Chapel. ONSWC contracts with Envirolink to manage and operate the collection system and wastewater treatment system, as well as to provide billing and customer service. Briar Chapel’s developer, Newland, created the reclaimed water system and transferred ownership to ONSWC based on its expertise in water reclamation
What are the Jordan Lake Rules?
Per the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, “the Jordan Lake Rules are a nutrient management strategy designed to restore water quality in the Lake by reducing the amount of pollution entering upstream.” Briar Chapel is part of the lake’s “upstream” region. More information here.
What is ONSWC proposing?
Briar Chapel’s growth requires an expansion of the water reclamation system. This is not a surprise. As communities grow, so do their infrastructure needs. ONSWC is proposing the upgrade of the existing system to a modern, top-of-the-line technology that will exceed the current and future needs of the Briar Chapel community. In evaluating different options, ONSWC concluded that the most beneficial solution for both now and the future is to interconnect the Fearrington Village and Briar Chapel Communities.
How did ONSWC arrive at this conclusion?
The proposal that ONSWC has laid out would allow us to expand the Briar Chapel reclamation facility with no service fee increase to Briar Chapel customers. However, if ONSWC had to expand the facility to support the Briar Chapel community alone, there would be increased cost to the Briar Chapel community. There are other substantial benefits to consider.
What are the environmental benefits of the proposal?
The system proposed will enhance the Briar Chapel communities’ enjoyment of the same environmental benefits of the previous system: guilt-free green lawns (even during droughts) and common spaces irrigated with reclaimed water. The interconnection with Fearrington Village will add an additional disposal method through a discharge permit, which will allow for any excess water to be safely discharged into a stream and improve water quality. The system will also be an independent, self-sustaining system without any concern of overloading irrigation fields. This additional disposal method will decrease the need to build additional sprayfield capacity at Briar Chapel, which could allow for additional recreational uses within the community. For more information on the benefits of reclaimed water, check out the EPA’s helpful FAQ.
What are the cost benefits?
If approved, the proposed combined system will mean that monthly utility bills for individual homeowners at Briar Chapel remain the same. For the community, it means the continuation of quality, safe irrigation from reclaimed water instead of the purchase of costly potable water from Chatham County. Long term, additional customers will help ONSWC and the North Carolina Utilities Commission keep the individual costs for homeowners lower by spreading them among a large number of customers as inevitable repairs and improvements are needed. Additionally, the cost of building one treatment facility versus two treatment facilities has a tremendous cost savings for both communities.
What are the quality of life benefits?
The new system is designed to significantly reduce odors associated with maintenance activities and other factors customers have noticed during operation of the current system. The new system represents the type of game-changing utility transformation we’ve seen with the turn from dial-up internet to broadband delivered by fiber optic cable.
What will happen if the current proposal doesn't move forward?
Change is inevitable. The creators of Briar Chapel always planned for the community’s water reclamation system to be built in phases. Now it’s time for the second phase, which includes plant expansion, to occur. The wastewater treatment system in Briar Chapel will be expanded to increase the treatment capacity required to serve the final buildout of the community. If the proposal is not approved then the cost for the expansion will be borne by Briar Chapel customers, and additional sprayfields will need to be constructed within the community. Briar Chapel can achieve the new system upgrade without a rate increase by interconnecting Fearrington Village’s system.
What will happen to home values if the current proposal moves forward?
Many factors go into determining home values. In general, the resale values of homes in Briar Chapel continue to trend upward, as reflected in third-party real estate sales comparables. Demand is high. A state-of-the-art water reclamation solution will help ensure that Briar Chapel remains a desirable place to live.
How is ONSWC's track record?
ONSWC’s track record of operations in the Briar Chapel community is very good, and we’re always working to improve. The spring/summer of 2019 produced several mechanical challenges that ONSWC worked to correct. Two factors compounded the mechanical failures in 2019. That particular season was unusually hot, resulting in water temperatures higher than we have seen in past years, which increases the potential for odors. These mechanical issues coupled with the increased temperatures resulted in more customer complaints than we had previously received, including concern about odor from the reclaimed system. We acknowledged these mechanical issues, and have moved thoughtfully and carefully to correct them. Many of the solutions were only recently approved by state regulators.
As the climate continues to warm, we anticipate the need to provide more odor control measures. Accordingly, we have installed robust, redundant systems to anticipate and compensate for the issues created by hotter, drier summers. These include chlorinating the reclaimed water and installing valves, previously prohibited by regulation, to keep the system flushed (much like a hot water heater needs to be periodically flushed). In addition to the many improvements discussed above, the plant expansion incorporates state-of-the-art treatment processes. This will result in a superior level of treatment compared to the current technology that was constructed in 2007.
All this said, our organization is not always perfect, nor are our contractors. While the vast majority of service orders are completed within the same day, we apologize for any delays and are always looking for ways to improve our customer service. We appreciate your feedback.
How can I get in touch with you about my thoughts on the information here?
We welcome your feedback. If you have an immediate service-related issue or repair matter that requires a customer service technician, please contact 252-235-4900. To provide feedback on ONSWC’s water reclamation proposal, please use the form on our Contact page.
Answers to Your Questions
Below are some of the questions we've received from you since launching the site. Thank you for visiting our "Get in Touch" page to send us your questions.
Why does the water from the irrigation lines sometimes smell bad?
It is a multi-pronged situation.
Once the water is treated and cleaned at the water reclamation facility, it is stored in a pond onsite. That pond has naturally occurring organisms such as algae and leaves. Water for the irrigation system is pumped from this pond throughout the community for reclaimed irrigation. The organic material from the leaves and algae can accumulate in the lines. In addition, since the water comes from a pond, there are naturally occuring bacteria present. When the organic material and bacteria combine in the lines, the bacteria breaks down the organic matter in a low oxygen environment, and creates hydrogen sulfide, or the rotten egg smell.
In addition, Old North State has obtained approval to add small amounts of chlorine (which until late 2019 was also prohibited by State Policy) to the irrigation water. This is inhibiting the growth of naturally occuring bacteria from the irrigation pond in the lines, further preventing the strong smell in the water.
Is the smelly water dangerous?
No, although the water smells, the water is not harmful for irrigation purposes. Of course, there is naturally occuring bacteria in the water and it is not approved for drinking. As stated above, this smelly water problem is being fixed and should not continue to be an issue going forward. The amount of chlorine in the irrigation water will be equal to or less than the chlorine concentration in drinking water.
Who should I contact if I see a damaged or malfunctioning sprinkler head?
If you should see a clogged or damaged sprinkler head, please report it to email@example.com.
Is the chlorine you are using dangerous to people, animals, or even vegetation?
No. The chlorine concentration will be equal to or less than the chlorine concentration in drinking water.
Why did the irrigation lines spray brown water in March?
Old North State Water is in the process of implementing the solutions to the smelly water, now allowed by State Environmental Policy. During testing of the system, a programming glitch allowed the activation of one of the irrigation zones. Nevertheless, aside from the strong odor, there was no health risk to the residents.
Does water reclamation pose a threat to pets and other animals?
ONSWC’s water reclamation processes and procedures comply with - and in some cases go beyond - state standards, and as such, in most circumstances do not pose a threat to pets or other animals. Recently, a neighbor reported coming across a dead rabbit near a manhole cover and expressed concern that the animal had died due to a sewage spill or the clean up that followed. This is unlikely. The manhole in question was the site of a sewage spill several years ago. At that time, ONSWC contractors used lime to help absorb the spill, as is standard practice. ONSWC then scooped up and safely disposed of the lime. The lime stained the manhole in question, but this is not an active clean up site. Had this area been an active clean up site, we would cordon it off until repaired.
As far as the reclaimed water in irrigation and its impact on pets and animals, we point you to the Town of Cary's FAQ as it relates to the safety of reclaimed water for pets and animals.
What do you do when you discover a leak?
We are diligent in our inspections of the system but cannot be everywhere at once. When the leak was discovered it was immediately cordoned off and posted.
How do you clean up leaks?
Hydrated lime is applied to the leak which kills any bacteria that may have been leaked. If there is residual material present, it is cleaned up and properly disposed of. We report the leak to DEQ and also the cleanup conducted.