Following a serious breach in its levee caused by October’s flood, the water contained in the Columbia Canal emptied into the Congaree River. Thanks to diligent work by city engineers and help from the South Carolina National Guard, a temporary dam was built above the breach which has allowed most of the canal to fill with water. And, the city’s water supply has operated normally since late October, with no dip in water quality even immediately after the flood.
However, the breach remains un-repaired. In this report, Columbia’s Director of Utilities and Engineering Joey Jaco and Waterworks Superintendent Clint Shealy explain how the breach occurred and what it will take to repair the levee, plus what improvements the city is considering for the repaired canal.
“We had a number of water line breaks within our system where we were losing pressure. So we were bleeding internally, so to speak,” analogizes Joey Jaco, Director of Utilities and Engineering for the City of Columbia. At 2:00 a.m. on the morning of October 5th, Jaco and his team were in full emergency operation mode to contain the breach in the Columbia Canal, which stretches 3.2 miles and runs adjacent to downtown Columbia. The canal is one of two sources of water for residents. Water flowing from the canal goes to the Columbia Treatment Plant where it is made suitable for consumption.
Downriver from the intake structure, historic rainfall caused the canal to overflow, effectively overtopping the earthen levee, eroding it from behind, and causing the breach that drained the canal. Water Works Superintendent Clint Shealy says, “that was probably the best area for it to fail. If it had failed upstream of our intake structure… that would have made it very difficult.” Shealy says repairing the levee will take an estimated two years at a cost of up to $40 million dollars. He says the city is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to secure funding, and hopes to cover 75 percent of the cost with federal dollars.
Despite the canal breach, Columbia’s remarkably fresh drinking water remained uncontaminated. Once customers were brought back into the distribution system, Shealy says, “we had no confirmed positive bacteriological sampling for the entire flooding event for the entire month of October.”