shows detail of a road that's washed away, with an exposed pipe gleaming in the sunlight
A view of the washout on Middle Sound Loop Road in Wilmington on Sept. 20, 2018. The challenges facing water system managers after storms come from both overflows and damage to infrastructure. Photo courtesy: NC Department of Transportation

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By Vaughn Hagerty

Carolina Public Press

Crews have stabilized a flood-imperiled pipe ferrying raw water from the Cape Fear River to treatment plants in New Hanover and Pender counties, officials said Monday.

Roiling floodwaters from Hurricane Florence on Friday had threatened to expose and potentially compromise the 48-inch pipe near U.S. Highway 421 in New Hanover just south of Pender.

“That had washed out the highway, and when the highway washed out, it began to expose that raw water line,” said Jim Flechtner, executive director of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which serves Wilmington and most of New Hanover County. “The immediate concern was if that erosion continues and undermines that pipe and its starts leaking or collapses completely, we would essentially lose our raw water supply.”

CFPUA workers worked through the night Friday and into Saturday morning, transporting several truckloads of heavy soil from the utility’s construction yard in Wilmington to build berms to divert the water from the pipe.

“They were able to stabilized that pipe,” Flechtner said. “Since then, the water has receded, so we feel much more comfortable than we did previously.”

Water drawn from the Cape Fear accounts for almost 80 percent of the more than 17 million gallons CFPUA distributes to customers on an average day.

Had the pipe failed, it likely would have cut off supplies of river water to Pender County and triggered emergency measures at CFPUA, including tapping emergency wells and instituting mandatory water rationing, all while residents are still reeling from Florence.

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“The conditions these crews were working in and the consequences if they weren’t successful are so tremendous that I just can’t say enough about them,” Flechtner said. As it worked to prevent the raw water pipeline from bursting, CFPUA also had crews repairing a water main in Wilmington pierced by a fallen tree.

Later this week, CFPUA plans to inspect and, if necessary, shore up the work near U.S. 421. It also plans to inspect the pipeline from a helicopter, Flechtner said, “looking for anything that could affect the integrity of our lines.”

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