Bigger reservoir a no-brainer

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Water is something we often take for granted. That’s easy to do because it appears we have plenty on our planet. The Earth is more than 70 percent water. But only about 1 to 3 percent of the Earth’s water is suitable for consumption.
When we experience droughts like those of the past decade, we realize just how valuable water is to our lives. We’ve become accustomed to water restrictions as drought stages progress. No watering lawns, washing cars or buildings.
As water customers, we’re asked to conserve water whenever possible. Droughts have taught us to be more water-conscious.
The Catawba Water treatment plant located near S.C. 5 and the Catawba River supplies the water for Lancaster and Union counties. In 1993, the two counties joined forces to build the Catawba River Water Supply Project. It was a joint venture that provided high-quality water at lower costs to both counties.
One aspect of that project is a reservoir that holds raw water for treatment in times of emergencies. Those emergencies include drought or any other natural or manmade disaster. The problem is that reservoir holds only a three-day supply.
We’ve experienced what happens when the Catawba River water level drops.
“The drought opened everyone’s eyes,” said Mark Knight, manager of the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District.
The district is taking a proactive step to make sure there is enough water for both counties during future droughts. District officials are promoting the creation of a new raw water storage reservoir at the same site.
The proposed plan is to build a 92-acre reservoir at the Catawba plant that would hold a 30-day supply of water. The project calls for building a 110-foot tall earthen dam about 700 feet from the Catawba River to help create the reservoir.
Mike Bailes, director of the Catawba River water treatment plan, said the new reservoir will help county residents in the event of a “worst-case-scenario.”
Bailes said there won’t be any problems with runoff in the new reservoir because natural buffers will be planted around the lake.
The reservoir facility will be secure, due to strict security rules put into place by the Department of Homeland Security.
“9-11 really changed our world,” Bailes said. “Now, we can’t even allow people to fish on the bank near the facility.”
The estimated cost to build the new reservoir is $30 million, which will be split evenly between the Lancaster County district and Union County. The Lancaster district expects to issue revenue bonds to pay for its $15 million portion.
Knight said the district will not raise rates to pay for the project. While this project seems like a no-brainer, district officials are taking every opportunity to educate the public about the project. Officials have presented the project to city and county councils.
While there might be some opposition to the project, Bailes says he hasn’t heard much negative reaction from the community. But it is important to get the buy-in from the public. That is why officials are going about the process to educate the public.
“I think we will have more yeasayers than naysayers,” he said.
Construction can begin on the project once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control issue permits.
The permitting process takes about 12 months. Construction, which will take about 24 months, will begin once the permits are issued.
If the time lines are met, the project should be completed in 2013.
The droughts have taught us all some valuable lessons.
“We’ve always taken water for granted in this country because we always felt we had enough,” Knight said. “But the drought opened everyone’s eyes. It showed that the river is a limited supply of water.”
We agree. None of us want to face a water shortage. And this proactive step – one that does not cost consumers – will help prevent that from happening.