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Ongoing coverage of South Carolina's recovery from the flooding of 2015.What had been Lindsay Langdale's Columbia home October 3, 2015 was a flooded ruin the next day.This coverage is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In October of 2015, South Carolina received rainfall in unprecedented amounts over just a few days time. By the time the rain began to slacken, the National Weather Service reported that the event had dumped more than two feet of water on the state. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the subsequent flooding was the worst in 75 years.

Columbia Canal Survives Flood-caused Breach, Awaits Construction Bids

Following a serious breach in its levee caused by October’s flood, the water contained in the Columbia Canal emptied into the Congaree River. Thanks to diligent work by city engineers and help from the South Carolina National Guard, a temporary dam was built above the breach which has allowed most of the canal to fill with water. And, the city’s water supply has operated normally since late October, with no dip in water quality even immediately after the flood.

However, the breach remains un-repaired. In this report, Columbia’s Director of Utilities and Engineering Joey Jaco and Waterworks Superintendent Clint Shealy explain how the breach occurred and what it will take to repair the levee, plus what improvements the city is considering for the repaired canal.

More on this story.

[Credit: SCETVCarolina Money]

“We had a number of water line breaks within our system where we were losing pressure. So we were bleeding internally, so to speak,” analogizes Joey Jaco, Director of Utilities and Engineering for the City of Columbia. At 2:00 a.m. on the morning of October 5th, Jaco and his team were in full emergency operation mode to contain the breach in the Columbia Canal, which stretches 3.2 miles and runs adjacent to downtown Columbia. The canal is one of two sources of water for residents. Water flowing from the canal goes to the Columbia Treatment Plant where it is made suitable for consumption.

Downriver from the intake structure, historic rainfall caused the canal to overflow, effectively overtopping the earthen levee, eroding it from behind, and causing the breach that drained the canal. Water Works Superintendent Clint Shealy says, “that was probably the best area for it to fail. If it had failed upstream of our intake structure… that would have made it very difficult.” Shealy says repairing the levee will take an estimated two years at a cost of up to $40 million dollars. He says the city is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to secure funding, and hopes to cover 75 percent of the cost with federal dollars.

Despite the canal breach, Columbia’s remarkably fresh drinking water remained uncontaminated. Once customers were brought back into the distribution system, Shealy says, “we had no confirmed positive bacteriological sampling for the entire flooding event for the entire month of October.”

Tut Underwood is producer of South Carolina Focus, a weekly news feature. A native of Alabama, Tut graduated from Auburn University with a BA in Speech Communication. He worked in radio in his hometown before moving to Columbia where he received a Master of Mass Communications degree from the University of South Carolina, and worked for local radio while pursuing his degree. He also worked in television. He was employed as a public information specialist for USC, and became Director of Public Information and Marketing for the South Carolina State Museum. His hobbies include reading, listening to music in a variety of styles and collecting movies and old time radio programs.