West Columbia needs to double the size of its water plant on Lake Murray to keep pace with growth expected in central Lexington County by 2040, a study says.
The county will become home to 190,000 people over the next 25 years, compared to 90,000 today, the report from engineering consultant Black and Veatch Co. said.
City leaders sought the company’s advice to prepare for the expected expansion of the system’s 5-year-old water plant to the maximum output it was designed to supply. The upgrades, estimated to cost $62.6 million, would allow the plant to pump 48 million gallons a day, up from a maximum of 22.5 million gallons daily now.
The report doesn’t mention the expansion’s impact on water bills. But municipal water improvements often are financed in part with customer rate hikes. Lexington, Oak Grove, Red Bank, Gilbert, Pelion and Swansea get their water from West Columbia.
The price of the package is four times what City Hall spends on utility services yearly. And it’s five times the cost of building the plant that initially produced up to 6 million gallons daily.
Black and Veatch’s recommendations suggest “what we’re looking at over the hill,” Mayor Bobby Horton said.
Still, the company said work needs to start soon on the first part of the package of improvements. Work would occur in three stages.
But the communities affected want time to review the plans.
Officials at the county’s Joint Municipal Water and Sewer Commission want to size up the plans before agreeing to support an expansion. “Before any work proceeds, there are things we are going to have to talk about,” general manager Jay Nicholson said, without citing specifics.
Some aspects of how the communities’ water partnership operates need revision, Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall said. “That is something we’re going to have to figure out as we plan for the future,” he said.
Improvements are necessary not only to provide more water but to make sure it tastes good and is safe to drink, the study said.
Nearly a third of the improvements proposed are devoted to quality and reliability.
City officials are correcting problems that led state environmental officials to give West Columbia water an unsatisfactory rating for poor maintenance last spring. The review stopped short of saying the water was dangerous to consume.
State officials rapped City Hall for making water potable with an unapproved method after discovery that a longtime method of purification wasn’t working.
The improvements suggested in the study would upgrade significantly the disinfection of natural contaminants in water taken from the 47,500-acre lake.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483