The combination of a future accident and some new regulatory demands have prompted the city to undertake nearly $13 million in upgrades to its drinking water infrastructure. Plans include a new 30 million gallon raw water storage tank on Hammonds Ferry Road and new pumps and other facilities.
If there is an accident or something harmful spills into the river, the city would be able to stop pumping, and instead rely on the in-ground water tank for about five days – longer if consumers restricted their water use, said Chris Lind, the city’s superintendent of water production.
Water concerns for the city were noted in records at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“The ‘potential contamination sources upstream’ simply refers to our dependence on the river and the potential for something to happen that would not allow us to pull water out for an extended period of time,” said city administrator Todd Glover.
“This issue came to our attention when a large truck ran off the bridge on Interstate 20 and into the Augusta Canal, which runs parallel to the river,” he said, referring to an accident that occurred a few years ago.
“It made us think about the possibility of some type of accident that could happen whereby a tanker truck or substance transported on I-20 could get into the river.”
There wasn’t enough leakage to cause a problem for any water system, and the South Carolina side was spared anyway, recalled Lind.
“We didn’t see any impact. But it is possible when you have a heavily traveled interstate above you,” he said. “We like to stay ahead of the curve.”
The city was approved for a low-interest loan from the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program, which relies on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants. In a 2011 report, the EPA estimated the nation needs $384 billion in water infrastructure investment over the next 20 years.
Lind said the upgrades, which are expected to start construction early next year, should prepare the city for the next 25 years. DHEC documents also note that federally endangered Relict Trillium plants – a perennial wildflower found in mature hardwood forests – have already been uprooted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and relocated to a safe site.
The Savannah River has been the city’s source of drinking water for more than 60 years.
But an eye toward swelling traffic volumes, including some vehicles carrying fuel and hazardous substances, is only part of the city’s concern.
The recent changes in regulatory requirements mean the city is also addressing the amount of disinfection byproducts in the drinking water served to the public.
That byproduct is created when naturally occurring organic material in the raw water, such as leaves and vegetation, are exposed to chemical disinfectant, typically chlorine, during the water treatment process.
Two byproducts that concern regulators have been shown to create to problems with the liver, kidney, central nervous system, and an increased risk of cancer to some. They are trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.
“The city of North Augusta is not the only one affected by these factors,” said Jim Beasley, a spokesman for DHEC. “These factors affect all surface water treatment systems across the U.S.”