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Treated wastewater from a leaky storage pond at a UNC facility did reach Collins Creek, which feeds the Haw River and, ultimately, Jordan Lake.

UNC's wastewater worries 

UNC contractors dyed treated wastewater to trace its flow from the wastewater treatment pond.

Photo courtesy of NC DENR

UNC contractors dyed treated wastewater to trace its flow from the wastewater treatment pond.

Treated wastewater from a leaky storage pond at a UNC facility did reach Collins Creek, state environmental officials say.

On Dec. 18, 2009, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued UNC a notice of violation for an illegal discharge at the Bingham Facility—formerly known as the Farm—west of Carrboro. A breach in the liner of a storage pond allowed 630 gallons of treated wastewater to leak onto the ground and flow into Collins Creek.

A month earlier, UNC told DENR none of the water had reached the creek, a point university officials reiterated at a Dec. 14 meeting with concerned Orange County residents. However, according to the violation notice, the same day as the meeting state inspectors visited the site and noted that the wastewater, which UNC contractors had dyed green to trace its path, was flowing toward and in Collins Creek.

Collins Creek feeds the Haw River and ultimately, Jordan Lake. Part of Collins Creek south of the Bingham Facility is on the federal list of impaired waterways because of agricultural runoff. Portions of the Haw River and Jordan Lake are also listed as impaired.

Jay Zimmerman, regional supervisor for the Aquifer Protection Section of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said UNC didn't know in November that discharge had reached the creek.

UNC was not fined as part of the notice of violation. However, failure to comply with the state's discharge permit can carry a penalty of up to $25,000.

UNC officials did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The storage pond can hold 1.6 million gallons of treated wastewater, which comes from animal facilities. There is a separate pond for "domestic" wastewater generated by people.

UNC houses animals at Bingham, primarily dogs, undergoing experiments as part of research on muscular dystrophy at the main campus. As the Indy first reported in November, nearby residents are concerned about Bingham's expansion and potential environmental impacts. Expansion plans include an 11,000-square-foot building for another 100 dogs, plus 24,000 square feet of enclosures to accommodate at least 100 hogs, which are being used in research on diabetes and heart disease. All the animals are kept inside.

After detecting the leak in the liner, UNC installed a pump to redirect water into the pond. This week, UNC plans to drain the pond and ship 350,000 to 400,000 gallons of treated wastewater to Orange County's Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant, according to plant manager Damon Forney. UNC contractors can then examine and repair the liner.

Forney said the Bingham Facility's water was due to arrive at the plant Jan. 19. Although the water will have been treated, it will be treated again with other wastewater before being discharged into Morgan Creek.

The extra wastewater is a small portion of the 7.6 million gallons of wastewater treated each day at the Mason Farm plant. "It's not going to impact our operation or load," Forney said.

To accept the water, the Orange Water and Sewer Authority will charge UNC roughly $2,200—equivalent to $5.81 per thousand gallons, plus a $30 administrative fee.

The leaky liner is one of several troubles at the Bingham Facility. Last week, UNC notified DENR that several valves on the water pumps for the wastewater treatment plant had broken. At least 100 gallons of treated wastewater sprayed onto the ground near the plant, according to an e-mail sent by Dwayne Pickney, UNC assistant vice chancellor for finance and administration, to the citizens' group Preserve Rural Orange. (UNC also provided a copy of the e-mail to the Indy.)

Pickney's e-mail stated that water didn't reach the streams; Zimmerman of DENR's Aquifer Protection Section confirmed that the water froze and remained near the plant but did not enter Collins Creek.

UNC is repairing the valves, which cracked likely as a result of the unusually cold weather.

And during a routine visit last October, inspectors from DENR's Division of Water Quality noted that UNC was violating its permit. UNC had failed to abandon its old septic tank system, as required when the new system was installed. As a result, a sand filter collects untreated storm water, which can enter the storage pond. From there, pumps funnel water—in this case, it would have been untreated—to dozens of irrigation spray heads in the nearby woods, which abut two homes.

UNC has until October 2010 to properly abandon the old treatment system.

Zimmerman said it is too early to tell if the latest wastewater treatment problems indicate there are overarching construction issues at the site. After UNC evaluates the entire facility, officials may be able to determine "if there are other problems that need to be resolved," he said.

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