A Cascade of Problems Led to Water Pressure Issue

Randy Gould giving a presentation on the background of the water pressure problems faced earlier this week. Elena Marsh/The Pilot


Staff Writer

A confluence of issues — hot weather, a faulty monitoring light and high demand — had a cascading effect that led to last week’s temporary drop in water pressure and boil advisory for several thousand Moore County Public Utilities customers.

“We have done a record review since then, of course,” Moore County Public Works Director Randy Gould said in a presentation to county commissioners Tuesday night. “We looked at it pretty hard and I’m going to look at it some more to try to learn what we can do better if this happens again.

“All of this happened very quickly,” said Gould. “It is kind of a compound thing. The tanks weren’t as full as they might have been going into the middle of the night, we also had some mechanical problems and some failures.”

Beginning last Monday morning, customers in the Pinewild Country Club and Seven Lakes areas called about low water pressure. Residential water pressure should ideally be in the range of 45 to 55 pounds per square inch (psi), but it can go as high as 80 psi. A psi reading under 40 is considered low.

“We noticed that the pressure on Saturday was low but it recovered overnight,” said Gould. “On Sunday at 4:30 p.m. the tanks returned to the low levels.”

It isn’t abnormal for water tank levels to drain through the day, but in order to be ready for the next day’s demand, tank levels have to rise overnight. That’s not usually a problem, since water demands drop significantly overnight.

But when Monday morning came, irrigation systems cut on and drained much of what remained of the tanks in both locations.

After checking data systems, public works officials discovered that the tanks displayed very low water levels in the Pinehurst and Seven Lakes area at about 6 a.m. on Monday morning.

“With our (monitoring) we can see a lot of the facilities in our water system,” said Gould. “We can see what the levels are in the tank, if the pumps are running and how much they are pumping, what the pressures are.”

The low water pressure can lead to a lack of suction to move water along the lines, especially the farther out the water has to go, such as Pinehurst and Seven Lakes.

The Seven Lakes and Pinehurst water systems receive water through a few different methods. A booster station on N.C. 73 receives purchased water from Harnett County. A booster station on N.C. 211 receives water from storage tanks in Pinehurst.

Pinehurst, meanwhile, receives water purchased from Southern Pines and Aberdeen. Pinehurst also has about 17 wells that help to fill its system.

A problem like low water pressure anywhere along the way can have cascading effects. For instance, once there wasn’t enough water in the water storage tank at Cannon Park in Pinehurst, that caused the stations on N.C. 73 and N.C. 211 to quit pumping, both of which send water on to Seven Lakes.

Gould said that, as officials examined the issue, they discovered that the Midland Station, which receives water from Southern Pines, was not functioning at the time of the pressure issues, even though the monitoring system displayed a green light indicating a good connection . 

Gould and his team then realized that the storage tank water levels at Cannon Park had been trending downward without totally filling since the prior Thursday.

“That is a red flag, in hindsight,” he said. “We are talking about a max (water demand) day situation by the looks of it.”

As the county hustled to correct the water pressure issues, it had to communicate the matter to customers and issue a boil-water advisory. Boiling water can remove any harmful contaminants that get in during periods of low pressure.

Several Moore County residents, in calls and emails to The Pilot and on social media, aired concerns about what they considered poor communication from the county on the issue. Gould acknowledged that there is room to improve there, as well.

“That is something we wish could be better,” said Gould. “The alert on our website did not reach a wide enough audience, and by the time the reverse 911 call went out, many people had already been using their water.”

Residents can sign up for a service to receive calls for emergency communications, such as severe storms or public health crises. The website to sign up for that service is https://www.moorecountync.gov/list.aspx

For last week’s water issue, a call went out to 14,000 customers in the Pinehursts and Seven Lakes communities.

As for the advisory the county issued, Gould said the threat was not sufficient enough to require mandatory enforcement. The county is required to notify customers that boiling water is advised in low-pressure situations, but residents and businesses are not required to comply.

“It’s like a heat advisory,” said Gould. “You may go outside without the proper precaution and pass out or you can take the measures and know you’ll be fine.”

It took more than a day for the county to give the “all clear” because water quality tests can take the better part of a day to complete.

“Thankfully and expectedly it all came back negative,” said Gould. “The tanks were able to refill. I believe customers really stepped up and reduced demand by not irrigating since Monday.”

Help is on the way for the water system. Installation is expected within the next year of a new booster pump station to push additional supply from Harnett County, and two new wells, each with a capacity of supplying 100 gallons of water per minute, will come online.

“By the end of this year, the long range water supply study will be finished, which will tell us a lot of information about going forward,” said Gould.

Contact Elena Marsh at (910) 693-2484 or elena@thepilot.com.