Storm-Ravaged Columbia Continues Recovery Efforts

Massive cleanup in South Carolina highlights the power of teamwork and community in the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin. But there's still much work to be done.
Storm-Ravaged Columbia Continues Recovery Efforts
The foreground shows the 60-foot breach in the Columbia Canal just north of the hydroelectric dam at its end. This breach threatened the water supply to the City of Columbia Canal Water Treatment Plant, one of two drinking water plants that together serve 375,000 people in the Midlands area. A temporary coffer dam was built upstream of this breach to stabilize canal levels. Bypass pumping was also set up to draw water from the canal and the Broad River while the temporary dam was being construct

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The historic rain event that hit the East Coast in early October has left some areas continuing to deal with immediate recovery efforts as well as a lengthier look ahead to the repair work and associated costs that remain. South Carolina felt much of the storm’s impact, and its state capital in particular was one of the hardest hit.

"We did go into emergency response mode early on in the storm,” says Joey Jaco, director of utilities and engineering with the City of Columbia. "We did have some issues with pressure in the system due to a number of water main breaks, which caused us to issue a systemwide boil water advisory until we were able to maintain system pressure."

"Also, on the water side, we're fed from a canal that's fed on the Broad River,” he says, “and a portion of the levy that supports that canal did breech, so we did have an issue with potentially losing our water source.”

Dealing with damage
A temporary coffer dam was built upstream in order to stabilize canal levels. Bypass pumping was also set up to draw water from the canal and Broad River while the temporary dam was being constructed. Ultimately, Jaco says, they were able to maintain production of water that met quality standards.

On the wastewater side, there were a number of power outages that were quickly addressed and overcome as well as sewer lift stations that did go underwater. Plenty of bypass pumping was set up at the beginning of the storm to help mitigate potential problem areas, but a number of low-lying areas did go underwater. As a result, there was heavy infiltration coming into the system.

"Our wastewater plant is in a floodplain,” he says, “but it never went underwater, so we were able to maintain wastewater treatment throughout the storm." 


An aerial view showing the two sets of bypass pumps that were serving the City of Columbia Canal Water Treatment Plant while levels in the Columbia Canal were being stabilized after the Canal levy breached. The background pumps in front of the raw water pump station were set up first to draw water from the canal at water levels lower than the raw water pump station was able to access. The foreground pumps were set up later to draw water directly from the Broad River.

Cleanup efforts
The City’s Public Works department has handled the cleanup-related efforts focused on tree and debris removal. During the initial response, the Forestry and Beautification Division removed trees and limbs from the roads in order for first responders to safely provide help, notes Samantha Yager, public works recycling coordinator with the city.

The Solid Waste Division began collecting debris, flood-damaged items, white goods (such as appliances and electronics) and anything unsalvageable about three days after the flood occurred. To date, it has collected roughly 3,800 tons of debris and is still in the process of collecting some construction debris. 

Along the way, priorities were established based on life safety and public welfare, according to Yager. From the Public Works side, the main priorities were helping make roads safe and passable, evaluating areas within the city limits, collecting garbage, and handling related vector control such as mosquitoes and flies.

Currently, the city is repairing the Lost Creek Road Bridge after going through a competitive bid process and approving a contractor for the rebuild and design. In addition, the city is undergoing a waterway debris evaluation.

Teaming up
“Every area of the city was affected by the flood, and it is tough to prioritize when more than 100,000 people rely on your services,” notes Yager. “However, the community came together and helped one another during this time. We saw an influx of volunteers from out of state that helped with cleanup efforts and helped provide meals and food to workers.”

"A lot of our successes had to do with the fact that we have a great team here at the City of Columbia,” Jaco adds, “but we also had some assistance from the National Guard as they were able to come in and assist us with recovery efforts."

In addition, a number of private contractors that already work for the City of Columbia were called in as part of an emergency action plan, boosting the overall capabilities and local resources available to help out. "I think it's very important that we had those types of relationships in place,” Jaco says. “Having those relationships allowed us to have an immediate response from our contractors as well as the vendors."

Remaining repair work
“On the canal we were able to finish our emergency copper dam and all the emergency repairs were completed in order to make sure our water sources were protected,” Jaco says, “but we still have a lot of repairs to handle.”

Canal repair work is anticipated to be the single largest financial impact related to the storm, with an estimated price tag of close to $100 million in total. In addition, there are still some waterline repairs that need to be made. And while the pumping stations fared well overall, there are some mechanical damages that need to be repaired, Jaco says.

A number of sewer line washouts are in need of repair and the low-lying sewer lines need to be inspected. Roughly 90 percent of that inspection work has been completed to date, but it’s a time-consuming job that has been ongoing since the storm event.

The city has a consultant who is working with FEMA, and a 75 percent match on many of these projects is anticipated. Jaco estimates that it will take between a year and two years to complete all of these storm-related repairs.

Damage lessened
Fortunately, Jaco says, a number of previously completed projects helped during the event itself. On the wastewater side, one of the largest sewer pump stations in the system underwent a $9.5 million capital improvement project that was completed in 2013. It raised all of the electrical out of the floodplain and rehabbed the entire station.

"Had we not completed that project we would have taken the chance of completely flooding out the pump station and probably would have had at least, we estimated, $6 million worth of damage related to the storm,” he says.

At that same pump station a 42-inch forced main was built to go directly to the wastewater plant instead of the collection system. A large amount of the flow was taken out of the collection system at that pump station, which helped avoid additional overflows due to the high rate of infiltration taking place during the storm.

"It could have been a lot worse,” Jaco adds.

Images and related descriptions provided by Victoria Kramer, Utilities Communications Manager with the City of Columbia’s Department of Utilities & Engineering.



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