Beginning nine years ago, I warned Richland County Council, the Richland County Conservation Commission, Richland County Public Works, state departments of Transportation, Natural Resources and Health and Environmental Control, the Army Corps of Engineers, property owners and engineers that after a rainfall of more than six inches, two dams on Spears Creek would be in jeopardy. The failure of these dams would result in the flooding of Spears Creek Church Road, if not wash out the road, and endanger human life.
Public Works said all permits were proper; the Corps of Engineers looked, but did nothing. Natural Resources and the Conservation Commission said it was not their concern, although protected wetlands were and continue to be eroded by floods from 1.5-inch rains. I tried to interest The State in my concern. DHEC said the flooding was “cumulative” and not addressed by state law, that the road was safe and that a detention pond buried by the Transportation Department was “pre-regulation.”
As recently as early September an official wrote that there was no evidence that any water had ever left a certain “oversized” pond “on a routine basis,” so DHEC did nothing. Rains of an inch and a half do not come routinely, but floods come from that pond as routinely as the rain.
Yes, what we experienced in October was an unusual rain event. But the water that broke the two dams and ruptured the road could have been held near where it fell with minimum inconvenience, had the detention pond outlets provided for a slow release of the stormwater.
Gov. Nikki Haley promises more dam inspectors. Good. But the inspections should include an evaluation of the watershed above each dam, including a careful recalculation of the potential runoff and detention design. That means not assuming that all the permits were properly reviewed before issue and that all the detention ponds are functioning with the proper designs. The inspection of the dams on Spears Creek did not consider the potential runoff; the inspector looked only at the dams and assumed that stormwater controls upstream were all proper, limiting runoff to pre-development rates.
Franklin B. Buie