Meet the Man Tasked With Cleaning Up Pittsboro’s Water Problems, Now and Moving Ahead

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Cory Saulsbury began working for the Town of Pittsboro in 2014 and held various roles before becoming water plant superintendent

Cory Saulsbury
Pittsboro native Cory Saulsbury shared his typical workday and perspective on the future of Chatham County in our April/May issue.

By Isabella Reilly | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Cory Saulsbury grew up in Pittsboro and attended Northwood High School. Cory holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics from Greensboro College. He lives in Chatham County with his wife, Megan Saulsbury, and their dogs – Coach, Angel and Blue

What work did you do before joining the water department?

I went to Guilford Technical Community College for two years, and I played baseball there. I transferred to Greensboro College for three more years and played baseball there, too. After graduation in 2012, I started out in insurance and worked with the Bouldin Williams Agency [in Pittsboro] for about nine months. Then, I worked for State Farm in Durham until June 2014, but [insurance] just wasn’t for me. That same month, I got a job with the Town of Pittsboro mowing grass. I worked in [the public works] department until August 2015, when there was a job opening at the water plant, so I got on with them. I was an operator, and being an operator at the water plant means you are providing safe drinking water to the town that meets state requirements. In two or three more years, around late 2016 to early 2017, I became senior operator. Then, about eight months ago, I became superintendent. 

What is a typical workday like for you? 

My job is to make sure my operators have everything they need [by] getting in contact with my operations manager, seeing what we need to get done, checking on my numbers, making sure our labs are getting done, and making sure all the numbers and labs are within our state standards. We take precautions before our finished water ever goes out of [range], and [we] monitor our levels. We’re also taking phone calls from customers. It’s busy every day. 

What kinds of civic needs concern you most?

One thing I tell everyone when I get calls from customers, is that I’m a customer myself. I live within the town limits; my family lives within the town limits. So, if they call me saying [their] water has a sulfur smell or something going on that doesn’t seem right, I’ll hop on it real quick. Because, like I said, I drink the water, too, and the emerging contaminants are a big deal. The main emerging contaminants are 1,4-Dioxane and [a group of chemicals known as] PFAS. They are not state-regulated contaminants but are still a concern because of potential health risks. We do not have a 1,4-Dioxane or PFAS problem right now – our numbers are undetectable. However, we’re putting in a granulated active carbon system, which functions the same as a regular house filter just on a bigger scale. So, hopefully, that will take care of the contaminants we can control. 

What are the current water priorities for Pittsboro? What are the active projects on your desk at the moment? 

Right now, it’s controlling the PFAS and the PFOA numbers. We’re currently in contact with the engineering company CDM Smith about putting in the granulated active carbon system, and construction is about to start in a month. Our concern right now is getting that system up and running. 

Pittsboro is changing quickly. What needs to be done for the town’s future? 

Monitoring the upstream contaminant and the whole Greensboro 1,4-Dioxane spill. [In July 2021, the City of Greensboro discharged levels of 1,4-Dioxane 20 times higher than Environmental Protection Agency recommended levels into the Haw River.] When they solve that problem up there, and it’s not in the river, that will help us downstream. We’re trying to figure out if we need to put an ultraviolet system in, because you never know what other unregulated contaminants will pop up here in the near future. We want to make sure all of our customers get the best product we can provide. 

What are Pittsboro’s biggest challenges from a water perspective? 

With the potential growth of Pittsboro, with Chatham Park coming in, we’re supposed to have 80,000 people within the next 15 to 20 years. We’re only a 2-million-gallons-a-day water plant, and what our future looks like – whether we are going to expand the plant or if we’re going to get water from somewhere else – that’s another concern. We need to look into the future, as Pittsboro is growing fast. 

What projects are you most excited about in the coming year? 

There’s the regional water plan that might be in the talks right now. [Utility officials from the Town of Pittsboro, Chatham County and the City of Durham are working toward the development of a new water treatment facility on the western side of Jordan Lake to meet future demands across those jurisdictions.] We’ll see how that develops and see if we get water from them. I want to see if they’re going to expand the Pittsboro water plan. That would be exciting to see. And I know it isn’t going to be tomorrow, but it will be exciting to see what we do in the growth. The growth is really the biggest excitement. 

What do you do outside of work? 

Really, I spend time with my family, eat, grill and watch sports. My father-in-law and mother-in-law live right next to us, with my wife’s aunt and [grandfather] on the other side. Mom and Dad live a mile down the road, and my brother and sister-in-law are about 30 minutes away. So, you can say hanging out with family is most important to me and my wife. We also like to support our niece, Willow, at her dance recitals, and our nephew, DJ, at his dance recitals. My family [members are] huge Chicago Bulls fans [as well as] Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears [fans]. My dad has season tickets to go watch Durham Bulls games. 

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