Charter Committee Begins Work on Water Authority Structure

The Fairfield County Regional Water Authority took another step toward becoming a reality Nov. 14, as its organizational committee met in the offices of the Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG) in Columbia to hash out details of forming the water distribution group.

The participating entities – the Town of Winnsboro (represented by Mayor Roger Gaddy and Councilman Jackie Wilkes), Fairfield County (represented by Council Chairman David Ferguson and County Administrator Phil Hinely), the Town of Ridgeway (represented by Mayor Charlene Herring), Mid-County Water (represented by Board President Robert Davis and administrator Herb Rentz) and the Town of Blythewood (represented by Town Administrator John Perry) – were guided through the process by meeting facilitator Gregory Sprouse of the COG and attorney Margaret C. Pope of the Pope Zeigler law firm.

Sprouse said the long-term goals for the Authority would include implementing recommendations from the recently under way study by the Army Corps of Engineers, aimed at finding solutions to the county’s water supply for the future, while short-term, addressing immediate needs for domestic, economic development and commercial water.

Gaddy told the group that, in spite of moving Blythewood customers off of Winnsboro water and onto a Columbia line last summer, the Winnsboro reservoir has not recovered, presenting the group with an immediate challenge.

“We’ve all agreed there’s a problem,” Gaddy said. “Even with the connection to Columbia, our reservoir is at an historic low. It’s not coming back like we would have liked it to. We all realize there’s a significant need.”

Gaddy said S.C. Electric and Gas has agreed to allow Winnsboro to pull up to 1 million gallons a day out of Lake Monticello, and that the Water Authority was necessary in order to acquire the financing to put the infrastructure in place and introduce that water into the Winnsboro system. At the same time, Gaddy said, the Authority could look at other options for future supply based on the Corps of Engineers’ study.

Pope told the members that each entity must first pass a resolution, committing themselves to the Authority. Before they can put forth a resolution, Mid-County Water will have to convert their operation from a private to a public entity. After the public hearings and resolutions, the members will meet again to hammer out their bylaws.

“If everybody keeps their focus on their mission and where they’re going, they (water authorities) really do work well,” Pope said. “I’ve seen lots of communities do things that, by themselves, they just could not do.”

The biggest thing the collective effort would do for the group, Pope said, was provide easier access to capital.

“It’s much easier to borrow money,” she said, “if you have a diversity of membership, and a future growth projection. It also allows for economies of scale. Rather than everybody going out and doing their own little thing, it allows everybody to pull together. And usually you do it much less expensively.”

One question floated during the meeting was the potential for a rate increase for water customers, something Ferguson said was probably inevitable under any circumstance. Rentz, meanwhile, pointed out that his research of other water authorities indicated that, although rates go up, they do so at a slower rate than with smaller, individual water companies over time.

“More expensive water is better than no water at all,” Gaddy said.

The committee will meet again Jan. 23 at Midlands Tech in Winnsboro.