The earliest construction could begin on the massive repair of the Columbia Canal would be 2019 – and that would be moving at an “aggressive” pace, a consultant told City Council on Tuesday.
In the meantime, the sole water source for downtown Columbia and half the city’s expansive water system remains in a state of “quasi-emergency” 16 months after historic rainfall resulted in an 85-foot-breach of the canal, said Don Green, of Michael Baker International, which is overseeing the repair assessment.
“We cannot afford to lose this water supply,” Green said, stressing the urgency of all stakeholders – more than a dozen agencies – coming to consensus on a repair plan. But “solutions have to revolve around realities.”
Nearly 200,000 Columbians came dangerously close to losing their water supply in October 2015 when a historic deluge tore a hole in the dike separating the canal from the Congaree River.
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The nearly 200-year-old canal supplies water to the century-old water treatment plant beside it. A second water treatment plant at Lake Murray serves the other half of Columbia’s water customers.
The cost to repair and improve the canal has been estimated as high as $100 million.
In recent weeks, the water level in the canal dropped low, Green said, though adjustments have been made to raise it. Still, there little room for error in the water level until a permanent fix has been made to the canal.
“Should we be praying for a rainy summer? How close are we to being thirsty in Columbia?” Councilman Howard Duvall asked. “It’s concerning to me that we’ve got to get to 2019 with very little margin of error.”
This spring, Green and his team plan to present a variety of possible solutions to council members. They’ve spent months analyzing reams of data and vetting possible plans.
In addition to repairing the dike itself, a major component of the canal project likely will involve establishing another water source – probably one of the three rivers – to feed the water treatment plant to avoid another water supply crisis in case of a future breach of the canal.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.