The hundreds of thousands of people in Richland County who rely on Columbia’s water system were worried Thursday after they heard that the entire system would be shut down for 4 or 5 days in order to repair the system. But city officials denied those rumors Thursday.
The Columbia Canal, which provides water for a water treatment plant that serves about 188,000 customers, suffered a major breach during the flooding, so water from the canal is flowing into the Congaree River instead of the treatment plant. An effort to repair the breach Wednesday, using a National Guard helicopter to drop one-ton sandbags into the breach, didn’t work.
Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Utilities and Engineering Director Joey Jaco said Thursday that the system will not be shut down for repairs, but the boil water advisory that’s been in effect all week will remain for most of the county. Jaco said, “Our short-term solution is dam the canal, pull water so we can continue our water source. And then the long-term solution is we repair our dike, our levee, and then we go back to normal operations.”
Assistant City Manager Missy Gentry said, “There’s been a lot of rumors that we have 12 hours worth of water left. That is not true either. We have a reservoir. We have tanks in our system, but we’re replenishing that reservoir.”
Jaco said the city is also going to run pipes to the Congaree River, so the city can draw water from the river for the treatment plant, if necessary.
Columbia resident Mena Gardiner was picking up cases of free drinking water Thursday and said she was worried about losing water completely. “I heard where I just was, the person there has a friend that’s a doctor at a hospital, and she said that they were told that today at 3 o’clock, for 12 hours, the water would be completely shut off.”
What she heard was off on the time but was otherwise correct. Palmetto Richland Hospital announced Thursday evening that it would be shutting off its city water supply for 12 hours, from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.
“As a City of Columbia water customer, we appreciate what is being done by our City officials to make water available to our area. Since we may be under a boil water advisory for an extended period of time, our team has developed a plan to bypass the city water for patient needs until the city water is appropriate for patient use. We still will use city supplied water for other needs such as air conditioning and certain equipment,” a hospital news release said.
Gardiner says losing drinking water was bad enough. “My fears are that we will not have water to cook or take showers. It’s amazing how often you use water and you don’t think about it until you don’t have it, so it’s scary.”
The city says the free drinking water stations will remain open, and starting Friday free water will be available at local fire stations from “water buffaloes,” 275-gallon portable tanks that hold drinking water. Residents can bring their own containers to fire stations and get free drinking water.