A Richland County dam that state regulators say is in danger of breaking and flooding downstream property needs immediate attention before it fails, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board agreed Thursday.
Questioning why lakeside landowners haven’t obeyed a two-month-old DHEC order to drain the waterway, board members said Arcadia Woods Lake must be emptied and repairs made to the dam. The board’s unanimous vote upholds a DHEC staff decision requiring those actions.
If the property owners don’t drain the lake, the agency will do it, said DHEC chief legal counsel Marshall Taylor. Taylor and agency spokesman Jim Beasley did not say when the pond would be drained, but board members said the agency needs to move quickly.
“If you have a sudden break of a dam with ... acres of water behind it, nothing is going to hold that water from coming down,” DHEC board member Clarence Batts said referring to the small lake between North Trenholm and Two Notch roads.
Board chairman Allen Amsler said the department had tried to work the matter out with lakeside property owners, but the potential for additional rainfall is “a real problem here.” Recent rains have heightened concerns about the dam, officials said.
Arcadia Woods Lake, also known as Cooper’s Pond, is one of numerous small impoundments along the Gills Creek watershed of central Columbia. It is tucked away in a residential section and is surrounded by homes. But some houses also are below the 75-year-old, earthen dam, including one that is 450 feet away. And a road that skirts the neighborhood runs across the top of the dam.
DHEC issued an emergency order June 29 requiring lakeside property owners to drain the waterway after finding cracks in the embankment. But lakeside landowners only lowered the water level about 40 inches, records show. The agency also ordered a study and repairs be made to the dam, which DHEC says has not been done.
The lakeside homeowners, however, said they didn’t own the dam and would have trouble paying to make repairs. They also said they didn’t want to drain the lake because it would hurt their property values and create a mosquito-infested swamp.
With those concerns in mind, Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, held a meeting July 25 involving DHEC, lakeside landowners and the S.C. Department of Transportation to discuss the issue. Six days later, DHEC agreed to hold off on requiring the lake to be drained as long as property owners were making progress to address the problem, records show.
Now, the agency says it can’t wait any longer because so much rain has fallen since late June and more is predicted. The department issued a general advisory Aug. 24 asking dam owners across South Carolina to closely monitor the structures and to consider lowering water levels. DHEC’s action Thursday was unusual because the agency’s board does not typically hear disputes over dams.
Board member Kenyon Wells questioned why Lourie was involved in the Arcadia Lakes issue. “In the real world, when a senator starts weighing in on this thing, it becomes muddy,” Wells said.
Lourie, who represents the Arcadia Lakes and Forest Acres areas, did not attend the DHEC board meeting but he told The State he was trying to find a resolution to a complex situation. He said it’s a senator’s job to represent constituents.
“What we’re kind of hoping for was to get an agreement about an engineering study to tell us exactly where we are,” Lourie said. He said he wanted to see if the study would say “Yes, the dam is dangerous.” or “No, if you keep the levels down to this amount, you’ll be fine. There a lot of different things the study can come back and tell us.”