$100 million approved for Columbia Canal repairs: ‘2015 was a significant crisis.’

Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 7:34 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Three major projects are maturing on Columbia Canal seven years after a catastrophic flood breached it.

More than 20 inches of rainfall over a 5-day period destroyed thousands of homes across the Midlands in October of 2015. The seismic event killed 19 people and threatened the tap water of 200,000 residents.

“Not a day goes by that we... don’t think about our water supply situation. When we lost the canal, our water supply was threatened. It was a significant crisis,” said Clint Shealy, Assistant City Manager for Columbia Water.

According to Shealy, the levee separating the Columbia Canal from the Congaree river was overtopped and breached on October 5, 2015. In total, 60 feet of the earthen embankment was eroded and later patched with a temporary rock dam.

Seven years later, the bruised memory of 2015 remains on this 3.1-mile stretch of waterway. All but one of the headgates built-in 1890 is operable while half of the city’s water supply is reliant on a temporary rock dam.

But according to Columbia Water, a dramatic overhaul is inbound.

“Any misstep that you make in dealing with federal dollars subjects you to not receiving those federal dollars. So there’s millions of reasons why we need to do this right. We need to make sure we take our time and get it done correctly and make sure we don’t have any missteps.”

Shealy says that after fighting an uphill battle through years of red tape, Columbia Water has secured “around” $100,000,000 for infrastructural improvements.

Step one is a $45,000,000 repair to the dilapidated canal embankment and hydroelectric plant built in 1896. This money is provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Step two is an $8,000,000 replacement of the headgates separating Broad River from the Columbia Canal. This money is provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Step three is a $45,000,000 installation to an alternate water supply facility on Broad River. 75% of this facility is funded from a Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant while the remaining 25% is coming from ratepayers.

“What happened in October of 2015 could happen again. That’s the primary reason we’re putting in a new, stand-alone water supply intake... to deliver water to our plant [downstream]. So that if that thing that happened in October 2015 were to happen again, we’ve got a new intake, a new piping system to deliver water.”

The alternate water supply designs are complete and under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Shealy says the scope of work for all three projects is approved. He anticipates a congruent bidding phase by 2023 and completed work by 2025.

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