WINNSBORO —The Army Corps of Engineers held collaborative work sessions and meetings with county leaders on Wednesday at a kickoff for its 18-month water supply study in Fairfield County.
This study is intended to aid water companies and county officials in their exploratory discussions about the creation of a county-wide water authority and also to increase the water supply so that the voluntary water restrictions imposed on the county in February can one day be either revised or removed.
The Corps of Engineers analysis is three-fold, covering engineering aspects, environmental concern and economic feasibility.
Areas discussed included, potential water sources that could supplement to water supply for the Town of Winnsboro and also the creation of a county-wide water supply system.
The county is sponsoring this study in an effort to make the most prudent long-term decisions with regard to water supply and projected water supply needs.
“Once V.C. Summer decided to expand its facilities, we realized we may have the ability to do more to address the drinking water needs outside of the (current) five systems,” County Council Chairman David Ferguson said.
Winnsboro and Fairfield County’s water needs represent a unique challenge due to the number of parts at play in the situation, ranging from local water companies to the county’s location with Winnsboro straddling the ridge line of two separate water basins.
U.S. Army Project Manager Dudley Patrick commended the county for being proactive and engaging the Corps of Engineers for the project, noting that the federal government helps fund the study on a 50-50 split and that the results would prove beneficial should the county apply for federal funding assistance in the future.
The study will take place in two phases.
Phase one will be completed in 15 months and includes an examination of Winnsboro’s raw water supply with regard to engineering, environmental and economic challenges.
The Corps will come back with 2-3 potential designs and several high level cost estimates with engineering projections.
The first phase will establish rough order estimates and plans, as well as establish the need for any water withdrawals—a key factor in the permitting process.
Phase two is a deeper dive into environmental, engineering and economic issues. Patrick said the majority of the work would be completed from October until Sept. 30, 2013.
However, he noted in October there may be need for an additional fund request from the federal government and the county.
Ray Winborough, a planner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, spoke about the deliverables the corps would leave the county with once the study is complete.
“We will set up a number of meetings and touch-points so we can explain were we are and validate our reasoning,” said Winborough. “We can explain where we are and validate it because you folks know the story better than we do. You know where you want to go possibly where the constraints are…. You know the opportunity and the problems. It is a collaborative effort required to put it all together.”
The corps will help the county and town officials to select one plan, having considered a sufficient number of alternatives.
There will be set planning objectives in place to guide that plan.
Once the project moves into phase two, plan selection will include cost/benefit analysis, net benefits and the benefit cost ratio.
The final product will contain logical, supportable information in a form that is readable and understandable.
Longer range comprehensive plans with the county and the city will also be put on paper.
According to Vernard Cleveland with Corps of Engineers civil engineering, the team will look at the Broad River first and Lake Wateree second as they consider the big picture and account for all sources of water for the county.
Jesse Douglas, a water employee with the Town of Winnsboro, pointed out that when one brings more water into a system that capacity must be increased so that water can exit the system, as well.
Another aspect is a thorough overview of the Town of Winnsboro’s water supply and the 192-acre lake reservoir the town draws from at a rate of 500,000 gallons per day. The Ryan rock quarry is a supplemental source of water, though it takes a long time for the water to seep through the rocks and refill it.
A 24-month emergency contract was negotiated with the city of Columbia that bifurcated the water system but allowed for a maximum draw of 400,000 gallons at a time.
Though piping and infrastructure would be required, one option that was mentioned to the corps for consideration was pulling 1-2 million gallons of water per day from the Broad River and using that water to restock water pits over time, such as the Ryan quarry which provide water sources but are slow to refill.
Access to Lake Wateree as a water source could be an option, but a historically, inner basin water transfer has been a hot topic with Lake Wateree residents and the Wateree Homeowner’s Association.
Since Winnsboro is in the wholesale water business and water is needed in Ridgeway, Mitford and Columbia, the question is raised at how can one get access to water sources already in the water basin.
Additionally, corps various officials had opportunity to request information, such as hydrologists asking for maps and information on sewer systems and economists requesting data on current and projected population and demographics for the county. Corps of Engineers members also visited various sites around the county.
Larry Turner, DHEC, said that there are hoops to jump through but that with the proper planning the requirements should not present barriers to the project.
Ferguson noted that water is the hold up on the process to finalize the industrial park and of the need to get that water in there on a temporary basis and also to find a permanent solution.
“As a county, we need a fixed water source that is consistent to all of us,” Ferguson said.