Winnsboro Seeks New Water Deal with Columbia

The reservoir for the Town of Winnsboro’s water system is at an historical low, according to statements made at last week’s Intergovernmental meeting at the home of Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring, pushing Winnsboro to press the City of Columbia for aid.

Columbia already pumps up to 400,000 gallons per day through Winnsboro meters and into the Town of Blythewood, as part of an agreement finalized and put into action this summer. Winnsboro Town Council had hoped that agreement would help their reservoir recover from this summer’s extreme drought conditions, but nearly six months later that hasn’t happened. Winnsboro Town Manager Don Wood told members of the county’s various local governments at last week’s Intergovernmental meeting that the reservoir is lower than ever before and if Winnsboro doesn’t get relief by next spring, troubled times could be ahead.

Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy confirmed the condition of the reservoir, but added that an agreement with Columbia is in the offing.

“We haven’t had the rain that we would like to have had,” Gaddy said.

Gaddy said Winnsboro has been negotiating with Columbia for an additional 600,000 to 1 million gallons of water per day to help replenish the reservoir, and under a 10-year contract that could be cancelled with 12 months’ notice.

“We’re looking for more of a long-term relationship with Columbia,” Gaddy said, “to take pressure off our reservoir until we can get more rain or until we can get hooked up with Lake Monticello.”

Because of the urgency of the situation, Gaddy said he is hoping the deal will move faster than the arrangement to bring water into Blythewood, which he said took nearly a year. Columbia City Council was scheduled to take the matter up at their Dec. 18 meeting. As of Dec. 21, Winnsboro had received no word from Columbia on the status of the amended contract.

Getting the water into Fairfield County will require some reverse pumping, Gaddy said, in order to feed the water into the tower on Highway 34 near Ben Arnold. Sources confirmed last week that Fairfield County Council had agreed to provide $400,000 for the necessary pumping equipment. With time allowed for engineering and the acquisition of permits from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, water could begin moving into the county in the next three or four months, Gaddy said.

“The County and the Town are working together to solve this problem,” Gaddy said. “And we think Columbia is on the same page and willing to alter our contract. Hopefully, the lines of communication are open and clear.”

Still, any long-term solution to the county’s future water needs lies with a regional water authority, the charter committee for which meets again Jan. 23. As of press time, only the Town of Winnsboro has made their intentions of joining the water authority clear. The Town of Ridgeway held their first public hearing on a resolution to join the authority Dec. 13. No members of the public attended. Fairfield County Council failed to take any action on a resolution to join during their final meeting of 2012, while Mid-County Water has yet to convert its governing body into a public body, which it must do before committing to the authority.

“They still have some time to do something,” Gaddy said of Fairfield County. “I think it is still important for them to be a part of it. It’s important for them and it’s important for the authority. I’m optimistic.”

County Council Chairman David Ferguson said after Council’s Dec. 3 work session that the County would like to see the bylaws before committing to the authority. During Ridgeway’s public hearing, Mayor Charlene Herring said Ridgeway wanted assurances that they could opt out of the authority if they found it to be cost prohibitive. Herring also said Ridgeway wanted to retain ownership of its water and sewer infrastructure.

Margaret Pope, an attorney with the Pope Zeigler law firm in Columbia, which is assisting with the formation of the water authority, assured Herring that any entity could opt out of the authority, as long as they did so before any debt was incurred by the authority.

In a conversation with The Voice last week, Pope addressed the County’s reluctance to sign up before bylaws are adopted.

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation for a lot of folks,” Pope said. “It’s up to Mayor Gaddy (the committee chairman) to have the meeting in January to get those bylaws done. That was going to be the purpose of the January meeting. Perhaps some people would like to see the bylaws passed first. I’ve seen it done both ways.”

The various public entities associated with the water authority will, before officially joining the group, have to pass a resolution, which requires two weeks’ worth of public notices in a local newspaper. Waiting until after the Jan. 23 meeting to start that process, as John Fantry, special counsel to the Town of Winnsboro, pointed out, will only delay the process.

“It could just lengthen the time it takes to establish the water authority,” Fantry said. “At least two of the public bodies must pass the resolution to join for the project to move forward.”

And while, as Mayor Gaddy said, there is still some time, there may not be as much of it as many would like. While the councils deliberate with caution, the state of the reservoir continues to decay on its own schedule.

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