UV room at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant

Photo provided by Cape Fear Public Utility Authority


The UWC comprises 12 of NC’s largest water/wastewater utilities. The consortium is administered by WRRI in partnership with voting representatives from each member utility, and activities are guided by a set of operating procedures. The UWC was established in 1985 to provide a program of research and development, and technology transfer on water resources issues shared by urban areas and water utilities across the state. Member utilities contribute annual dues and enhancement funds that are used to support research. Utilities benefit from opportunities to share, learn and discuss common concerns through quarterly meetings. The UWC considers research proposals that are submitted as part of WRRI’s annual RFP and proposals developed through direct coordination between researchers and consortium members. We welcome researchers to share their ideas for utility-related research. Please contact Nicole Wilkinson or one of the UWC’s member voting representatives to discuss your ideas.


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The UWC research priorities in drinking water, wastewater and water infrastructure fall into the following categories, though the group will consider research proposals on other issues of importance to water utilities in North Carolina.

Risk and uncertainty

In the face of changing population, land use, climate, and regulations, how can we quantify and manage risks and uncertainties in public water supplies? How should rate setting and financing capital improvements for water and sewer utilities be determined in the face of these risks and the changing physical and regulatory landscapes? How can utilities increase their resilience to these changes?

Customer behavior and utility relations

Using social science and economic valuation methodologies, how can water/wastewater utilities better understand customers’ level-of-service expectations, motivations for behaviors, willingness to pay for services, and customer perceptions, attitudes, opinions and beliefs related to drinking water, wastewater, and reclaimed water? How can this information be applied to utility management?

Alternative water sources

What alternative sources (graywater, harvested rainwater, reclaimed water) exist for differing consumptive uses (e.g. home irrigation)? What are the health risks of these alternatives sources? What are the impacts of alternative water use on overall water supply and demand?

Innovative processes

What/how can innovative processes and technologies be applied to NC utilities for water and wastewater treatment, plant operation, energy production, distribution systems, waste discharge management, potable and reclaimed water supply, and the repair, management and planning of infrastructure?


To view a comprehensive list of projects funded by the UWC, please visit the WRRI Technical Reports Repository where all final project reports are housed. Type “Urban+Water+Consortium” in the “Search for” box.

The UWC is currently supporting the following research projects:

  • Francis de los Reyes, NC State University | Improving Start-up and Operation of Anaerobic Co-Digestion of Grease Interceptor Waste
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    Fat, oil, and grease (FOG) generated at food service establishments are removed by grease abatement devices to reduce the incidence of sanitary sewer overflows. In North Carolina, grease interceptor waste (GIW) pumped from the food service industry is treated as septage and either land applied or composted as a soil amendment. The anaerobic co-digestion of GIW provides a value added disposal option whereby GIW can be used to generate electricity at wastewater treatment facilities. Previous research at NC State, funded by the WRRI, has shown that addition of GIW results in increases in biogas production of up to 336%, the highest levels reported in the literature. These results directly impact the economic feasibility of operating GIW co-digesters, specifically with respect to maintaining high methane yields. However, the interactions between substrate variability (high FOG and food solids) and microbial community adaptations are not known, and directly impact start-up times and process resilience and resistance. This is an important issue in full scale operation, since the collected GIW can vary in strength and characteristics on a daily or per load basis. The overall objective of this project is to understand substrate-community interactions to optimize anaerobic co-digestion, particularly to minimize start-up time, and increase process resilience and resistance. This will lead to operation and start-up procedures that can be used in full-scale implementation of anaerobic co-digestion of GIW in utilities in NC and around the country.

  • Mark Sobsey, UNC-Chapel Hill | Microbial Quality and Health Risks of Alternative Surface Sources of Drinking Water Impacted by Wastewater
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    Problem addressed. Regulations for NC type 2 reclaimed water (NCT2RW) address risks from pathogens by specifying log10 reductions and effluent quality for bacteria, virus and protozoan parasite indicators and treatment including dual disinfection by UV radiation and chlorination (or substitutes). There are little to no data for NC reclaimed water facilities to know if microbial requirements are met, if indicators predict water quality and treatment performance for pathogens and if NCT2RWs from current systems pose low pathogen health risks from various exposure pathways of allowed non-potable uses or as source water for potable drinking water. New NC legislation approves potable reuse of NCT2RW for drinking water. There is now an urgent need to quantify microbial quality and human health risks from exposures to NCT2RW in order for stakeholders to make informed use decisions. Objectives. The overall objectives are to determine the microbial quality of NCT2RWs, run-of-river source waters and mixtures of them from NC facilities and then do quantitative microbial risks assessments (QMRAs) on their microbial health risks based on microbial quality and various exposures resulting from different non-potable and potential potable uses. Methods. 1. Do monthly and episodic (storm events) sampling and analysis for the microbial quality of NCT2-like RW, raw sewage, and run-of-river source waters of selected treatment facilities. Measure concentrations of NCT2RW fecal indicators (E. coli bacteria, coliphage viruses and Clostridium perfringens as a protozoan parasite surrogate) and key pathogens, specifically, Salmonella and selected human enteric viruses (adenoviruses and noroviruses). 2. Use levels of fecal indicators and pathogens in NCT2-like RW and raw sewage to determine log10 reductions and compare to those of the regulation. Also compare log10 microbe levels in NCT2-like RW to run-of-river drinking source waters at various times and conditions. 3. Mix NCT2RW at 20% with run-of-river source water, store mixtures for 5 days at 5 and 25°C with and without mixing and measure initial and final microbe levels and their reductions. 4. Use indicator and pathogen data in NCT2RW, source waters and mixtures of 20% NCT2RW water in source water stored for 5 days to do QMRA analyses for (1) exposures from various nonpotable uses and compare them to US EPA recreational water health risk levels and (2) for potable reuse of 5-day stored mixtures of NCT2RW and source waters, and compare risks to US the EPA acceptable drinking water microbial risk level of 10-4 infections/person/year, after accounting for further microbial reductions by conventional drinking water treatment. Expected outcomes. Reliable data on the microbial quality of NCT2RW and drinking source waters and QMRAs of health risks from various water exposure scenarios when used for non-potable purposes and as potential source water for potable use in drinking water supplies.

  • Detlef Knappe, NC State University | 1,4-Dioxane in North Carolina Drinking Water Sources: Occurrence and Treatment Options
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    Objective 1: Through a literature review, identify (1) possible sources of 1,4-dioxane (e.g. industrial usage, manufacturing byproduct, landfill leachate, etc.) and (2) effective treatment options for 1,4-dioxane removal. Objective 2: Establish occurrence of 1,4-dioxane in NC drinking water sources, identify factors that control 1,4-dioxane concentrations (e.g., source variability, stream flow), and determine 1,4-dioxane sources. Objective 3: At the bench-scale, assess the effectiveness of existing treatment processes at UWC member utilities for 1,4-dioxane removal (powdered activated carbon adsorption, permanganate oxidation, ozonation, biofiltration, photolysis by UV light) and identify treatment conditions for effective 1,4-dioxane removal. Objective 4: Identify new treatment options for 1,4-dioxane removal (O3/H2O2, UV/H2O2, UV/chlorine, persulfate, tailored sorbents such as zeolite molecular sieves or polymers).