A Story from the Columbia Canal: Hospitals and Water

Dec 8, 2015

When the October flood hit, two hospitals in downtown Columbia lost water pressure. The situation was critical as officials worked to restore water to the facilities.

Two months have passed since the flooding that hit South Carolina. Communities across the state experienced historic rainfall and overflow from rivers and dams. In the Midlands, flood waters breached the Columbia Canal, which serves as a major intake point for much of the capital city’s water supply. Two hospitals faced a particularly difficult situation when the water supply for downtown Columbia was compromised. South Carolina Public Radio’s Laura Hunsberger has the story.

 From the Reporters Desk

The breach of the Columbia Canal during the October floods was a particularly critical situation as it compromised most of the city’s water supply. The flooding caused water in the downtown canal to breach a levee and flow out into the river. The National Guard and the city worked together to stop the flow of water out of this crucial reservoir and repair the breach. They built a rock dam to slow the river’s current enough to allow helicopters to fill the 60-foot breach with sandbags.

On Sunday night, the hospitals in downtown Columbia lost water pressure. Palmetto Health President John Singerling says they had only enough water to continue operations at the facilities for a matter of hours. Mayor Benjamin says the situation required incredible creativity and dedication to prevent evacuation. He called on the fire department for help. The fire department worked for 18-straight hours. The hospital only had to power down equipment for a few hours that night. But to run the two hospitals downtown for 24 hours, they needed 500,000 gallons of water. A fire truck can only bring in 1,500 gallons at a time, so the fire truck plan was not sustainable.

By the next day, the city had shored up the canal enough to restore water pressure. But the next challenge was getting potable water to the hospital during the city-wide boil-water advisory. On Thursday morning the National Guard arrived to provide clean water through ROWPU (Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units) until the city could provide potable water. They stayed with the hospitals for days, until the city lifted the boil-water advisory, allowing the facilities to stay on track with patient care.