Resource Management & Sustainability
The health and welfare of our customers, community, and local economy rely on OWASA's ability to deliver a reliable supply of high quality drinking water and to provide wastewater services that protect the public's health and environment. OWASA will continue meeting this challenge in a sustainable manner through continuous improvement in all areas of our operation.
OWASA's Mission Statement identifies the importance of sustainability in all that we do:
We will proactively plan, construct, operate, maintain, and finance the water and wastewater system in a manner consistent with the principles of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. We will work hard to meet the needs of our current and future customers, community, and environment without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We will strive to make the highest and best use of our local water resources and we will adopt practices which encourage conservation of water, energy and other natural resources.
OWASA's Statement of Sustainability Goal and Objectives defines our sustainability vision and values and addresses six key areas: Environmental Performance, Resource Stewardship, Materials Use, Social Performance, Our Employees, and Economic Performance.
These sustainability and resource stewardship efforts cross all areas of our organization – from purchasing (hybrid vehicles, recycled products, etc.) – to materials recycling – to the use of renewable energy (biodiesel fuel for vehicles, methane gas from biosolids treatment, etc.). Key plans and strategies now in place include:
- On January 10, 2013, the OWASA Board adopted a Drought Response Operating Protocol (DROP), which describes OWASA’s procedures and criteria for making water supply and demand management decisions during an extended drought. To read the DROP, please click here. For the Board’s resolution, please click here.
- Our Long-Range Water Supply Plan indicates that with the planned expansion of the Quarry Reservoir, our locally protected water supplies can meet most expected needs through 2060 under most circumstances. We are pursuing the option to cost-effectively use our 5 million gallon a day water storage allocation from Jordan Lake as an “insurance policy” for times of severe drought, facility failure, or other emergency.
- In accord with State requirements, OWASA adopted a Water Shortage Response Plan on November 11, 2010.
- Our Long-Term Water Conservation and Demand Management Program Goal and Objectives guide OWASA's efforts to develop, fund, and implement a cost-effective water conservation and demand management program that will meet our community's long-term water supply needs by making the highest and best use of local water resources and eliminating the need for costly new water supply sources and facilities.
- Our increasing block rates, seasonal rates, and drought rate surcharges have helped achieve substantial reductions in water use across all customer classes, thereby reducing our vulnerability to severe droughts and enabling OWASA to defer expensive capital projects.
- In accord with federal requirements, OWASA is implementing a State-approved forestry management plan at our 490-acre Cane Creek Reservoir Mitigation Tract near Buckhorn and Mt. Willing Roads. Please click here for more information. OWASA purchased the Mitigation Tract to offset the loss of wildlife habitat as required in the Federal permit for construction of the Cane Creek Reservoir.
- We presented our Draft Forest Management Plan at a community meeting on November 30, 2010 and have received numerous comments from citizens.OWASA staff is continuing to work on a draft response to the public comments. When the draft response is ready, staff will submit it to an OWASA Board Committee and share it with local governments and citizens. After consideration by the OWASA Committee, the draft will be revised as needed and provided to the full OWASA Board. The OWASA Board has agreed that it will not make decisions on the draft plan until OWASA has made presentations to and considered comments from the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Carrboro Board of Aldermen and Chapel Hill Town Council. OWASA will also receive additional public comments.OWASA does not have a timetable for the process noted above. To read a statement by OWASA Board Chair Gordon Merklein at the December 9, 2010 meeting of the OWASA Board, when the Board deferred consideration of the draft forestry plan, please click here. OWASA is committed to making a decision that is in the best interest of the overall public good, the environment, and, most importantly, our community’s drinking water supply.
Financial and Asset Management
- Our Financial Management Policy establishes OWASA's practices and policies for general financial management including reserve funding and debt service coverage, asset management, investment, debt, rate-setting and customer care. Our 15-Year Financial Management Plan identifies projected operating and capital improvement expenditures, debt payments, customer demands, and potential rate increases needed to sustainably manage the community's water, sewer, and reclaimed water systems and to provide reliable, high quality services.
- Our Annual Budget is OWASA's formal, Board-approved plan that shows anticipated revenues and specifies how our financial resources will be invested or allocated in a given fiscal year. The Annual Budget is our near-term “financial roadmap” for prioritizing and carrying out OWASA's objectives and programs. Expenditures include operating and maintenance expenses, debt service payments, and capital expenditures. Revenues include operating revenues (primarily from monthly water, sewer and reclaimed water charges) and non-operating revenues (such as fees received for new connections, interest earnings, and grant funds). OWASA is required by law to maintain a balanced budget. To the extent possible, the Annual Budget is established to achieve the financial performance targets specified in our Financial Management Policy.
OWASA's fiscal year begins on July 1st and ends on June 30th of the following year. We are not allowed to expend any moneys, regardless of their source (including funds from bond proceeds, federal, state, or private grants or loans, or special assessments), except in accordance with the Annual Budget.
In accord with State law, an independent auditor prepares an Annual Audit of OWASA's finances. The audit complies with accepted reporting and accounting standards, and our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report has received the Government Finance Officers Association's Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
- Our water, sewer and reclaimed water rates and fees are based on the principle that the customers who benefit from our services should pay the full costs that OWASA incurs to provide those services. For information about our 2% increase in monthly rates in October, 2011 and our initiatives for service quality, reliability, efficiency and the community's water and sewer infrastructure, please click here.
- Our Capital Improvements Program (CIP) identifies the water and sewer system improvements we expect to undertake during the next five years. These projects include system rehabilitation and replacement needed to ensure the structural integrity and reliability of our existing facilities, as well as capacity expansions to support the planned growth of our service area as determined by the Towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and UNC Hospitals. Our CIP includes projects identified from our asset management evaluations, such as our Water Main Replacement Prioritization Model and our Sewer System Evaluation Studies. For a list of projects funded for July 2013 through June 2014 (Fiscal Year 2014), please click here.
- Each Fall OWASA prepares an Annual Review and Update of Strategic Trends and Master Plan Issues (report).
- Process optimization studies at the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant and Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant have and will continue to improve performance, and reduce chemical and energy use and associated costs.
OWASA is working on several other important sustainability and resource stewardship challenges, such as:
- Energy management (Under Construction) – We continue to pursue cost-effective opportunities to reduce energy use and costs; e.g., by replacing older mechanical equipment with more efficient units, installing more efficient lighting and temperature controls, using renewable energy sources instead of conventional fuels, and so forth. Promising energy conservation projects that we have identified include the replacement of the methane gas engine and boilers and the installation of a new aeration system at the Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant.