WINNSBORO — Fairfield County’s main water supplier, the Town of Winnsboro, is leaning toward constructing infrastructure to pull water from Lake Monticello.
The Town of Winnsboro, Fairfield County Council and congressional aides met Thursday to discuss locating a sustainable source of water.
Following the Army Corps of Engineers pre-final submittal report of a water study, the sides discussed and analyzed water supply alternatives for the Town of Winnsboro and Fairfield County.
County Council Chairman David Ferguson and Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry recently visited Washington, D.C., to speak with U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney concerning issues within Fairfield County.
“The main purpose of this meeting is to talk about the dilemma Fairfield County and the Town of Winnsboro has been dealing with as far as water is concerned,” Ferguson said to open up Thursday’s meeting.
The Corps of Engineers first proposal was for Winnsboro to continue buying water from Columbia, which Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy would like to avoid.
“Their recommendation was to continue buying water from Columbia, but the Corps of Engineers is just looking at readily available water and not looking at political aspects,” Gaddy replied. “The problem that I have continuing to buy water from Columbia is that it is more expensive than what we charge and Columbia hasn’t been that easy to deal with.”
Several years ago, Winnsboro was in a drought and town administration approached Columbia for emergency water, but it took eight months to work out.
The reservoir has returned to a safe level after being dangerously low during the drought.
According to Gaddy, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin admitted he would not have accepted the contract if the roles were reversed.
“It took much longer than we anticipated,” Gaddy said. “And then we went back to get more water to supply the Fairfield Commerce Center and Columbia gave use a take-it or leave-it option with the original contract. That was resolved relatively quickly because there was an amendment they (Columbia) wanted to add to one of Sen. Creighton Coleman’s bills. Our experience in dealing with Columbia has been less than ideal.”
The current contract with Columbia is to purchase up to one million gallons per day, but Gaddy noted they only purchase anywhere from 220,000 gallons per day to 400,000 gallons per day.
The Town of Winnsboro’s water supplies customers up to 1.6 million gallons per day in the off-season and up to 2.4 million gallons per day during summer months.
A second option proposed by the Corps of Engineers is to receive water from Lake Monticello.
Gaddy acknowledged that the Town of Winnsboro has been in negotiation with SCANA to draw up to one million gallons per day from Lake Monticello.
“SCANA has agreed to allow us to pull one million gallons per day from Lake Monticello,” he stated.
Gaddy noted preliminary estimates to lay water line infrastructure to Lake Monticello will cost anywhere from $8 million to $12 million.
“If we were able to do that, I think it would give us more leeway and more negotiating power with water rates instead of feeling like we have to ride in the backseat of Columbia,” he said. “Ideally we would like to pull water from Lake Monticello.”
The Winnsboro Water Plant has a capacity of four million gallons per day and with upgrades and adjustments could be increased to six or eight million gallons per day.
In order to receive any federal grants from Washington D.C., the Town of Winnsboro would need the Corps of Engineers report.
According to Gaddy, an ideal timeline to receive water from Lake Monticello would be an 18-24 month project to establish right-of-ways and construct the infrastructure.
When Al Simpson Chief of Staff for Mick Mulvaney asked the amount of money Winnsboro would be able to match, Gaddy was unsure.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” he replied. “We thought about doing a municipal bond, but the problem is 75 percent of that bond would need to be paid back with water revenue and the only way to do that would be to go up on rates.”
Winnsboro’s water rates are among the lowest in the state. The Town of Winnsboro made a minuscule $2,800 off water last year.
Mulvaney’s District Congressional Liaison Dan Hamlon advised the committee about a USDA grant that is available annually.
Hamlon noted that the committee would also need to have an environmental study done prior to applying for the grant.
“It sounds like this is the money that is set aside for exactly what you’re talking about,” Hamlon told Gaddy. “There are others (grants) out there, you just would need to keep your eye out for them.”
Although receiving grants are competitive, Hamlon advised the committee to also consider piece mealing the funding together through several grants.