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Submitted by WWAY on Wed, 02/06/2008 - 6:02pm.

WILMINGTON -- The repairs to the northeast interceptor are a step in the right direction, but the area's infrastructure is still stressing and straining and in some cases, breaking down. Roads, bridges, sewer and water are things you ignore when they work as they should. But age is catching up with our infrastructure. Wilmington's now infamous sewer spills show what happens when the infrastructure breaks down. The city and New Hanover County have spent millions fixing it: relining old pipes so they don't leak, upgrading transfer stations, expanding wastewater treatment capacity -- the Northside plant expansion is a massive $80 million project. When completed by early next year, the plant's capacity will have doubled. Project manager Craig Lundin said, "We currently have a capacity of eight million gallons a day and we'll have 16 million when we're done." As massive as this expansion project is, it's been designed with an eye to further expansion. That combined with a renovation of the Southside plant should take us to 2020 and beyond. The renovated plant will also use new technology to create a cleaner, more efficient, and environmentally friendly water treatment process. "We're also switching over to ultraviolet for disinfectant from chlorine," Lundin said. "It's safer and we won't have to de-chlorinate the water before we discharge it into the river." They're even going to treat the air to improve the smell. And all of this will all now be under the control of a newly centralized sewer and water authority, a better way to handle the future we're told. Cape Fear Utility Director Matt Jordan said, "It really comes down to not only planning for what's best but taking advantage of what you've already invested in." In addition to the water we flush, the Cape Fear Utility Authority will also oversee the water we drink. Jordan calls it a holistic approach, and in the face of a daunting drought and unparalleled growth, he's looking for other ways. Jordan said, "We have to rethink the ways we do a lot of things. As far as water reuse, that's something that continues to grow and something that could be quite useful." It's frightfully expensive, as are most technological fixes. Conservation will remain the call for at least the near term as more and more people will compete for southeast North Carolina's water. Both ends of the water equation are critical to our public health and our future. Steve will have an update on our roads and bridges later this month as we continue our Cape Fear 2020 focus.

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