Historic Flood Restarts Talks of Water Supply Resiliency

May 16, 2016

Broad River water is treated at the Columbia Canal Water Treatment Facility.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy / SC Public Radio

The Columbia Canal Water Treatment facility can treat and distribute 84 million gallons of water a day. City of Columbia Water Works Superintendent Clint Shealy said the depth of water needed to pump from the Broad River into the canal was lost when the century-old structure suffered a massive breach during October’s historic rain event and flood. Maintaining water service during and after the flood has brought back discussions of finding an alternate source of water.

“During the flood, we were pumping Broad River water, but we were having to pull it directly from the Broad River.”

Shealy said this was done by moving temporary pumps over to the river. Suction hoses were used to pump water around into the permanent pumping station at the canal.

“It’s made us think about water supply resiliency. If something were to happen to the one source, or our ability to draw from that source, how can we be resilient enough where we could continue to supply our customers through an alternate source, or an alternate method of getting water into the plant.”

Shealy said conversations are in the very early stages, but three promising options have surfaced.

The city distributes treated water to its approximate 375,000 customers over 2,400 miles of water lines, pump stations, storage tanks and pressure reducing valves. Through its two facilities, the city has a total treatment capacity of 159 million gallons of water a day.

"... at the Columbia Canal we can treat and distribute 84 million gallons of water a day. At our Lake Murray treatment facility, we can treat and distribute 75 million gallons of water each day.

Shealy said the early-stage, water-resiliency discussions also include improving the city’s distribution system. This includes possibly enlarging a pipe that helped maintain water service during the flood.

"Here at the Columbia Canal we can treat and distribute 84 million gallons of water a day. At our Lake Murray treatment facility, we can treat and distribute 75 million gallons of water each day." - Clint Shealy

“Right now, we have the ability to bring some finished water from the Lake Murray system and put it in our storage tank here at the canal plant and re-pump it.”

Shealy said each alternative has advantages and disadvantages and as conversations move forward, potential issues need to be considered.

“We have to speak with regulatory officials and stakeholders to make sure the best solution for water supply is not over-riding some other concern that may be out there.”

Some environmental concerns focus on the possible impact to water quality and water abundance. For example, Shealy said, the Saluda River looks very plentiful, but research would need to be done to determine if taking water from the river would cause issues for other stakeholders.

“If we start taking water out there, might that have an impact on recreational use? Might that have an impact on aquatic life and the environment?”