The water is safe to drink for nearly 30,000 Columbia water customers, City Hall said Saturday as officials also announced that the flood-damaged downtown treatment plant hit a milestone toward reaching normal operations.
Around 8 p.m., city officials said that a boil water notice had been lifted for customers served largely by the city’s second treatment plant, at Lake Murray. Those 29,358 customers amount to about 8 percent of Columbia’s 375,000 water customers.
The rest of the water customers still should boil water before drinking or cooking with it, city spokeswoman Leshia Utsey said. A systemwide call that all customers continue to conserve water remains in force, she said.
Most customers served by the downtown plant that usually draws water only from the now-breached Columbia Canal – about 188,000 customers – are not affected by Saturday night’s decision.
Areas in the latest safe-water notice include customers in the northwest to northeast parts of the city. The customers are north of I-20, west of Hardscrabble Road, east of the Broad River, as well as the area along Parkridge Drive between Richland County portions of Harbison Boulevard and Lake Murray Boulevard. Click here to download a map from the city's website.
Customers in Chapin, Ballentine and areas along the north shore of the lake have been able to use water directly from the tap for two days.
Utsey said the nearly 30,000 total includes those customers from earlier this week.
City leaders were able to exhale just before sunrise Saturday when the stressed downtown treatment plant began taking in more water than it pumped out.
“We’re on the right side of the equation,” assistant city manager Missy Gentry said Saturday morning.
Overnight on Friday, activated a 24-inch pipe from the Broad River north of downtown to feed directly to the plant’s 30 million gallon reservoir, Joey Jaco, Columbia’s director of utilities, said. Smaller pipes had been pumping river water to the plant since Thursday, he said.
The larger pipe began pumping between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., Jaco said during a Saturday morning public briefing.
“Turning the pumps on was absolutely a big deal,” Gentry said. “Definitely a huge success.”
A 60-foot section of the canal dike fell away before dawn Monday after the engorged Congaree River flooded over the dike during record-setting rainfall. Repairs to the dike have not stopped, Jaco said, even as a second, smaller collapse occurred Wednesday.
No other collapses have occurred, spokeswoman Utsey said Saturday night.
Workers continued efforts to replenish the plant’s permanent reservoir with water pumped in from the Broad River and trucked in and piped in from Cayce’s and West Columbia’s systems under police escort.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said the plant’s reservoir received 33 million gallons of water on Saturday from the combined efforts.
But repair work on the canal will slow down while Columbia officials determine their next step, S.C. Adjutant General Robert Livingston said Saturday afternoon.
The canal is fragile and work crews are proceeding more cautiously, Livingston said. City, state and private work teams have been constructing a temporary boulder dam across the canal to create the second reservoir and fixing the gash in the dike.
That dam is critical to keeping the plant supplied since the breach, city officials have said.
Jaco would not say when the boulder dam, spanning a 125-foot stretch of the canal, will be completed. But he said it would not be finished this weekend.
On Friday, city officials ramped up the water supply to the permanent reservoir. Fire department tankers from several local fire agencies ferried 151,500 gallons to the reservoir using police escorts. The neighboring towns of Cayce and West Columbia began sending up to 8 million gallons of drinkable water daily to the plant.
Benjamin cheered the news that the plant was getting more water than it was feeding into a water system that had been peppered with water line leaks.
“That’s a huge, huge victory,” he said.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.
THE COLUMBIA CANAL
The Columbia Canal dates to the 1820s, when it served as a way for cargo ships to bypass the rapids in the Broad and Saluda rivers that converge in downtown to become the Congaree River.
Just before World War II, the canal became the only water source for the downtown plant that now abuts Riverfront Park.