Round Medallions Could Help Protect Waterways

Apr 28, 2016

Richland County storm drain marker.

  During South Carolina’s 1,000-year flood event, City of Columbia Water Works Superintendent Clint Shealy said the water treatment center at the Columbia Canal was treating very “difficult, muddy, turbid water.”  Heavy rains caused a flushing effect, which pushed leaves and decaying vegetation into the river.

During National Stormwater Awareness Month, the City of Columbia, Richland County and Sustainable Midlands are working to remind residents that storm drains in their neighborhoods connect them to local waterways. Much like the flushing effect Shealy saw during the flood, unwanted materials in storm drains are can eventually flushed into recreational drinking source water.

“When precipitation comes down, it runs off into our storm drains, if the surface is paved,” Richland County Public Works Education and Outreach Coordinator Chenille Harris said. “The drains lead to rivers, so anything that’s on the ground or anything that’s in the storm drain, when it rains, goes to our nearest waterways and eventually to our rivers.”

After a rain event, pollutants on the ground, like chemicals, pet waste, cigarette butts and oils, will move into storm drains and flow directly to creeks, lakes and rivers. Harris said volunteers are needed to help mark the drains. Storm drain marking is done throughout the spring and the summer. Harris said they will accept volunteers through the fall.

At the height of the historic rain event, City of Columbia Water Works Superintendent, Clint Shealy, said the water treatment center at the Columbia Canal was treating very difficult water.

“We saw historically high levels of turbidity and total organic carbon. That’s largely due to the big flushing effect that the heavy rains caused. Leaves and decaying vegetation, that may have been on stream banks, all washed in.”

October’s heavy rains and subsequent floods were rare events for South Carolina. But during normal weather situations, the concern of unwanted items or materials flowing through storm drains and flushing onto rivers is the same.

Inside the intake facility at the Columbia Canal, workers are able to sample water at every stage of the seven-step treatment process.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

  When asked what would happen if someone dumped unwanted items in storm drains, Shealy said, “If they’re located upstream of our intake facility in the Columbia Canal, then something that flows into a storm drain would eventually flow into the Broad River.”

For people who are downstream from the Canal, unwanted items or materials would flow into the Congaree River.

“It may not impact us here directly, but it would impact someone downstream that’s withdrawing that water for drinking purposes.”

Richland County has a list of 100 neighborhoods they are targeting to help ensure storm drains with missing markers, are tagged. The two most concentrated areas of the county that are missing storm drain markers are the St. Andrews and Northeast areas. According to Harris, 12 neighborhoods in the St. Andrews area are in need of storm drain marking and 11 in the northeast area. Click here to see if your neighborhood is on the list.