March 3, 2021
By Arthur Northrop
This article is a recap of an interview with John Hare, Edgefield County Water and Sewer Authority’s (ECWSA) Administrator. Hare provided an overview of ECWSA’s structure and operations as well as the challenges facing Edgefield County in the future. The article is divided into three parts: Part 1, Operations and Structure, Part 2, Present and Future Challenges, and Part 3, ECSWA’s role in Edgefield County’s Growth.
Edgefield County Water and Sewer Authority provides potable (Clean and safe drinking water) to 25,000 people with 3,000 of those folks living in Aiken County. “Our number one driving factor is to protect peoples’ health. We have 25,0000 people putting in their bodies what we are making,” said John Hare, Administrator of ECWSA.
ECWSA is a Special Purpose District which means it receives no tax dollars for its water and sewage operations. The only revenue ECWSA receives is from the rates charged to its customers and occasional state and federal grants.
Part 1 – ECWSA Structure and Operations
Hare explained that ECWSA draws its water from a pumping station just south of Stephens Creek Dam on the Savannah River. The water from the Savanna is pumped 1.5 miles to a water treatment plant on Freeland Drive. The ECWSA draws 4 to 10 million gallons a day of raw water from the Savannah River to its treatment plant each day where the water is tested and treated.
Hare said the condition of the water in the Savannah River impacts ECWSA’s treatment processes. When the Savannah River is churned up, there are more sediments from agriculture and development upriver that must be removed and treated. ECWSA constantly runs tests and adjusts its chemical feed to treat the water depending on the river’s conditions.
The raw water treatment process involves the water passing through sedimentation basins that have sand and anthracite filters. That process filters out stuff normally found in river. At that point, chlorine gas is used to kill all the pathogens, bacteria, and viruses. Hare noted that at this time there are no wells feeding ECWSA’s water supply system.
Once the water is cleaned and drinkable, it leaves treatment plant and goes into the water distribution system. It is pumped from the Savannah River up Highway 25 to Trenton, where it forks off to Johnston and Edgefield. From Edgefield the water travels up Highway 283 to Walker Road. Hare noted ECSWA’s water distribution system is wide spread and very rural. ECWSA does not add fluoride to its customers’ water.
On the other side of its operations, ECWSA has around 2,500 customers on its sewage system. There are sewage treatment plants in Johnston and Edgefield. The treated waste water in Johnston is released in an unnamed tributary that flows to the South Fork of the Edisto River and the Edgefield’s plant’s treated waste water is released in Beaver Dam Creek.
The majority of sewage travels through gravity mains, but there are pumping stations in the system. The sewage from Highway 25 and parts of the Merriwether area ends up in the regional sewer system. That sewage is treated at Horse Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant in Aiken County where it is discharged into the Savannah River.
Part 2 – Present and Future Challenges
Hare said the challenges ECWSA faces are the same as most of the water authorities across America. He explained one of the biggest challenges is the aging infrastructure of ECWSA’s treatment and distribution systems. Hare said the treatment plants were approaching 50 years in age and there were sewer lines built in the 1920s and 30’s approaching 90 years old in the towns.
Hare said decisions will have to be made as to whether to upgrade or build new plants in the future. He also said decisions have to be made regarding increasing sewer and water capacity for the growth happening in our county. Hare explained the water supply cannot be figured on the average amount of water used. He said water supply capacity has to be based on peak demand and not average demand.
Hare estimates that in seven to ten years, ECWSA will have to tackle some major infrastructure projects and population growth is a variable in that decision. He said ECWSA hopes to begin a Water Systems Master Plan within the next 18 months.
Hare said major projects could be funded through municipal bonds, USDA loans, State Revolving Fund loans or any other sources that may be available at the time. The Authority also utilizes available grant funding from entities such as the South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority, but Hare noted those funds are usually limited to $500,000.
Hare said this time of year ECWSA averages around 3.5 million gallons per day. He said in May through September that amount jumps to 6-7 million gallons a day. He said one person filling up an inflatable pool, washing a car, or watering a garden does not impact the system. But he explained that when 25,000 people do those things, it stacks up quickly.
Hare said his job at ECWSA is to try to plan for the future five to ten years down the road. “None of us have a crystal ball, if we did it would make my job a whole lot easier,” mused Hare. Hare noted that he manages the system’s assets while planning for the growth happening in the county. He said he has to make decisions about how far to push some of the infrastructure before replacing it.
Another challenge ECWSA faces is getting prepared for upcoming regulations that are constantly coming from the state and federal levels down to the local level, particularly from the EPA. (Environmental Protection Agency) Hare said the EPA drives all the new water quality regulations. Hare attempts to anticipate what the regulations may be five to ten years down the road so ECWSA can meet the new standards with its facilities and treatment processes.
The last challenge Hare shared is how to keep customers’ water affordable while meeting the infrastructure and regulations needs. “They (EPA & DHEC) are constantly coming out with new compounds we have to test for and sample and eventually have to treat for,” said Hare.
Hare explained that cost of water to ECWSA’s customers is impacted by infrastructure needs and regulations. Hare is convinced that in the future water will become much more valuable and will cost more than it does right now because every time a new treatment technique is required, water is exponentially more expensive.
While the quality of water is ECWSA’s primary concern, Hare explained that primary mission when water plants that were originally built was to provide water that would not kill people. The chlorination process at the turn of the 20th century prevented viruses and bacteria. Once water was rid of those, Hare said millions of lives were saved worldwide.
Hare said the technology is there to provide near distilled water, but doesn’t think most people want $500 water bills. “When is good, good enough,” reflected Hare. Hare said that question is asked worldwide and the issue is much bigger ECWSA. Hare said at some point decisions have to be made about the cost of water and the gains in water quality. “Finding that balance point is always a struggle,” said Hare.
Part 3 – ECWSA and County Growth
In the next few years, the number of homes on ECWSA sewage system will increase by around 740 homes or over 20%. Three subdivisions (Copperfield, Winsor, and Tavern Hill) account for the projected increase. The sewage from those subdivisions will be pumped back to Highway 25. The increase will be in phases as the homes are built and then occupied.
Hare explained that the developers hire their own engineers to design what is in each subdivision. The developer has to pay all the construction costs of the infrastructure within the development in addition to hiring engineers and preparing drawings that will be acceptable by DHEC.
At that point, Hare said the plans are given to ECWSA and are reviewed. ECWSA provides specific feedback for needed changes and details about pumps and fittings to ensure it meets the ECWSA specifications. The developers then make corrections and revisions and send the plans back to ECWSA to ensure all requirements are met. Hare said at that point the plans go back to DHEC to get permitted.
All these steps are done prior to the Authority providing a letter that the developer’s engineer needs to submit to SCDHEC stating that ECWSA has the capacity and willingness to serve the subdivision. After the project is completed, ECWSAreceives the new infrastructure for ownership, operation, and maintenance. The developer also has to provide one year’s warranty on the installed infrastructure.
Part 4 – Bonus Details
Hare discussed the weather event that took place in Texas a few weeks ago. He said Edgefield County’s last ice storm and sub-freezing weather for multiple days in a row created problems for ECWSA’s customers. Hare said his distribution staff worked around the clock helping people cut off their water because of the large number of them who had busted pipes. “We needed to do that to keep from hemorrhaging water,” explained Hare.
Hare said there were no issues with ECWSA’s infrastructure during the ice storm. Hare said power outages affect ECWSA as bad or worse than anybody because of ECWSA’s need for power for the 39 sewer pump stations that all run off electricity. Hare said ECWSA has back up diesel pumps and generators to try to manage and mitigate power outages. He noted if you can’t get fuel to the generators because of weather conditions, that can cause major problems.
Hare also said ECWSA along with various Federal agencies are very aware of protentional dangers and threats to water supplies and appropriate precautions are taken to assure safe drinking water to its customers.