WINNSBORO — The combination of dry weather and increasing demand brought Winnsboros water system to its knees in the past year.
While most of the municipal water utilities in the state managed to handle drought conditions, Winnsboros customers sucked the 192-acre Mill Creek Reservoir down so low that only a 60-day water supply remained last summer. Since last July, Winnsboro has been unable to replenish the reservoir. Customers have dealt with mandatory restrictions on things such as lawn watering and car washing.
A temporary fix, with water coming from Columbia, is near. Winnsboro signed a contract with Columbia in March, and the connection is expected to begin flowing early this month. But that isnt the permanent solution, and itll be expensive. Columbia is charging Winnsboro close to its standard commercial rate.
The costs will be paid by Winnsboro water customers, who will see rates jump 10 to 26 percent, according to town budget projections.
When you dont have any water, thats what you buy it for, said John Fantry, attorney for the Winnsboro utility.
Columbia city manager Steve Gantt said Winnsboro is getting a slight break for the first six months, in recognition of the emergency nature of the problem. After six months, the rate will go up to match what Columbia charges the town of Chapin.
Winnsboro stretched itself thin in the past few years when it agreed to supply water for customers of the town of Ridgeway, Mid-County Water Company and Jenkinsville Water Company and to subdivisions in the Blythewood area, Fantry said.
Now, if a developer asks Winnsboro for new taps, Fantry turns it down.
In fact, Winnsboro has had to refuse to provide water to a new building constructed at the Walter B. Brown Industrial Park to lure business to Fairfield County. The building recently was finished, but economic development officials have yet to successfully recruit any tenants.
The county has recognized there has been a challenge with the water situation, said Tiffany Harrison, Fairfield County economic development director. You do need water and basic sewer service.
No business that has looked at Fairfield County as a prospective site has said water was a concern, but Harrison said you dont know if theres somebody who didnt look at the county because of the water situation.
County officials are examining solutions, including the expensive possibility of running new lines to get water from the Broad River to the west or Lake Wateree to the east. In the meantime, the Columbia water connection could be enough to allow the industrial park building to join the Winnsboro water system.
Any time a community turns to Columbia for water, even temporarily, it prompts concerns among local governments about annexation. Columbia in the past has used water lines to extend its boundaries into Northeast Richland.
Winnsboros town council scheduled a forum of water-related groups Monday to consider another alternative a joint water and sewer authority. The invitees include Fairfield County, Winnsboro and Blythewood political leaders, local development officials and the Lugoff-Elgin Water Authority, which is the other major player in the water business in the area.
Winnsboro isnt looking to become a big-time player in the water business, Fantry said. The town just wants a stable supply for its customers.
Winnsboro water customers generate an average daily demand of 879,392 gallons, according to a report compiled by the utility for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. About 75 percent of Winnsboros system is in Fairfield County, with the rest in Richland, mostly residential customers near Blythewood.
The Blythewood customers account for nearly one-third of the total daily usage, and that could grow. Before the drought problems arose, Winnsboro agreed to provide water to the Cobblestone subdivision, which is expected to grow to 500 homes over the next decade.
Many water companies throughout the state have had to implement mandatory water use restrictions during a series of droughts in the past decade, said state climatologist Hope Mizzell. But during recent drought response meetings, Winnsboro was the only utility reported to have such severe problems.
Winnsboro relies on the Mill Creek Reservoir for the vast majority of its water. During emergency situations, water is pumped from the nearby Rion Rock Quarry to refill the reservoir. The utility also has a small pump station on Sand Creek, which in recent dry months has been more sand than creek, and thus of little help.
Even if the region gets normal rainfall this summer, Winnsboro would have trouble meeting its demand without buying water from Columbia, Fantry said. The contract with Columbia is for 24 months and covers up to 400,000 gallons per day. Winnsboros monthly service charge will be determined at a base rate of a meter charge of $236.40 plus $2.11 per 100 cubic feet of water for the first six months.
In addition to the cost of the water, Winnsboro must pay about $180,000 for a master meter and pump station to connect to Columbias lines.