Originally created 10/26/01

Water company stands guard



GRANITEVILLE - For Charles Hilton, they are signs of the times.

Outside his office of the Breezy Hill Water & Sewer Co., off Ascauga Lake Road, are two signs. One tells visitors they are being videotaped; the other tells them the water district's supply is being well preserved.

The first sign was posted on the front door after Sept. 11 when state and federal officials and the public started recognizing terrorists could strike anywhere.

The camera system inside the small headquarters of the water district, which includes most rural parts of northern Aiken County, is one of several new security enhancements made by Mr. Hilton and his staff.

The other sign, posted on a wall opposite the door, recognizes the district as a Groundwater Guardian.

The distinction came from The Groundwater Foundation, a nonprofit organization started in 1985 in Lincoln, Neb. The group was started to help citizens protect their ground water from dangerous contaminants.

Breezy Hill, which has been a Groundwater Guardian since 1999, is the only district in South Carolina to join the voluntary organization. Communities in more than 40 states have joined Breezy Hill.

The organization certifies its guardians each year after they supply a plan, which includes education for the public on ground water and other ways to address ground water concerns.

The district recently finished a two-year, $140,000 study done with the U.S. Geological Survey that mapped the aquifer the district pumps water from. That study will locate untapped water in the aquifer, Mr. Hilton said.

Mr. Hilton said his five-member board of directors has been very progressive in studying the ground water, unlike some other areas in the state.

"I've really been somewhat surprised there hasn't been more interest in it," Mr. Hilton said.

Mr. Hilton attended a conference in Columbia on Wednesday with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials and officials from the American Water Works Association. At that conference, participants discussed new security concerns in light of Sept. 11.

Federal officials have said water contamination is a remote possibility because treatment barriers can detect foreign elements quickly and those elements would be diluted.

Mr. Hilton said since the conference, he has been a little reluctant to post signs near his 13 wells telling people each well is part of the Groundwater Guardian program - essentially giving away their locations.

He said the debate over the public's right to know about their water and the district's need to protect supply information is a new issue he has had to deal with since Sept. 11.

"We are doing things we didn't think we needed to do," Mr. Hilton said. "We are answering questions we've never had to answer before."

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or mboedy@augusta.com.