Mayor Nancy Vaughan has been blasted on her Facebook page for a post where she states that if you live in Greensboro you don’t need to buy bottled water to prepare for Hurricane Florence.
Vaughan said she knew people would disagree with the post, so she did her research before she wrote it and knew the Greensboro water system was not in danger from the hurricane.
And our mayor is right. Just to make sure I did my research also, I talked to Greensboro interim Assistant City Manager and Water Resources Director Steve Drew.
The Greensboro water system is incredibly resilient. The treatment plants not only have backup generators but they also have diesel pumps that were at one time used all the time and are now used during weather events. Drew said that during the summer, when thunderstorms could cause even a brief interruption of electrical power, the electric pumps are cut off and the plants switch to diesel pumps.
Drew said that the water department had enough fuel and chemicals on hand to run the plants for one to two weeks, and that’s without any deliveries. It’s hard to imagine a storm related event that could cause Greensboro to not only lose power but not be able to get deliveries of fuel and chemicals for over two weeks.
So even if the hurricane caused the electricity to be cut off to the water treatment plants, it wouldn’t have much effect since they would have already switched over to diesel pumps and the pumping stations across town have backup generators.
People also commented that the city water system could be contaminated by the storm. It is certainly within the realm of possibility, but we are about 200 miles from the coast. We don’t have to worry about saltwater intrusion or storm surge. We also don’t have any huge hog farms or coal ash dumps near our reservoirs.
According to The Charlotte Observer, which jumped on board the “you don’t need to buy water if you live in the city” bus, the most likely way that city water could be cut off in a storm is that a tree could fall across a water line where it is above ground, for example when it crosses a creek. But the chances of that happening are slim, and it would only cause a temporary shutdown in a confined area. It would be more like waterline breaks caused by winter freezing, where some areas are without water while the line is being repaired.
Rain and wind don’t increase the odds of people in Greensboro losing city water much.
Those who depend on wells for water, however, will lose their water supply if the electricity goes out and they don’t have a generator. It could be days before the electricity comes back on because parts of the state are going to be hit much harder than Guilford County, so Duke Energy repair crews are going to be spread thin.
Vaughan said one reason for her post was the thought of all the empty water bottles that will end up at the landfill and at the recycling center. There isn’t much of a market right now for recycled plastic, so a few extra tons of it isn’t going to be helpful. Another reason for the post was simply the unnecessary expense for the people buying water and the idea that if people who don’t really need the water clean out the stores there won’t be water available for the people who do need it.
Even those on well water, if they want to help the environment and save a few dollars, can fill up some containers with water while they still have it.
And with all that money people save not buying bottled water, they can go out and buy bread and milk in a couple of months when we get the first prediction of snow.