Hilton Head Island to invest $4 million in drinking water supply

To create a more dependable supply of drinking water, some Hilton Head Island residents will see an increase in their property tax bills.Hilton Head Public Service District plans to borrow as much as $4 million to store water purchased from the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority in an underground aquifer storage and recovery unit, as salt water continues to overtake the island's wells. The money would also go to other improvements.

The district proposes to pay for the project by increasing taxes by about 12 percent -- or about $11 on a home assessed at $400,000.

If approved, the rate would take effect for tax bills due in January.

"It's a long-term improvement and project. That's why we are charging to a long-term source, rather than" increasing water rates, said Pete Nardi, community relations manager for the public service district.

The new system would involve buying water from BJWSA that has been drawn from the Savannah River and treated by the authority. The water would be treated again by the service district when it is removed from the aquifer.

The service district's Long Range Water Planning Committee heard an updated construction schedule Friday. The full commission will meet Tuesday to set a Sept. 28 hearing date to amend the district's budget for the new debt and establish the new tax rate.

The recovery well for the new system is expected to cost $3 million. The remaining $1 million would go toward improving the district's water-distribution system.

The aquifer system allows the district to take river water during times of low demand and store it for use when demand is highest, during the summer.

Saltwater intrusion is being exacerbated by over-pumping of the Upper Floridan Aquifer from the island and, particularly, Savannah. Hilton Head is on the lower end of the aquifer. When Savannah draws water from the aquifer, it pulls salt water into Hilton Head wells, Nardi said.

The plant would be built at the district's site in Hilton Head Plantation near Royal James Drive. The well should be working by summer 2013, about the time three of the district's wells are expected to be overtaken by salt water. The district expects six of its seven Upper Floridan wells to be closed because of saltwater intrusion by 2020.

Nardi said a second underground storage unit probably will be needed by 2017.

General manager Richard Cyr said the district will be able to pump as much as 1 million gallons of water a day into the aquifer during eight months of low demand, providing up to 2 million gallons a day during peak demand over four months.

Commissioner Frank Drehwing said the aquifer system also should improve water pressure, particularly in Hilton Head Plantation.

BJWSA stores water in a similar fashion, but utilities in Georgia cannot use aquifer storage recovery units because of concerns about adding river water to the aquifer.

Hilton Head Public Service District officials said many of its problems with saltwater intrusion would be lessened if Georgia repealed that law, and alleviated pressure on the aquifer.

"They need to get that off the books, because aquifer storage recovery is a critical component of meeting your future water demands," said Arnold Ellison, special projects manager for the public service district.