$30M reservoir will help during droughts

Mark Knight hopes a new water storage project will protect Lancaster County during a water emergency.

Knight, manager of the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District, is promoting the creation of a new raw water storage reservoir in the county. The reservoir will be built at the site of the Catawba River water treatment plant, as part of a joint venture between the district and Union County, N.C.

Knight said the district realized the need for more water storage after severe drought conditions affected the area in recent years.

“We’ve always taken water for granted in this country because we always felt we had enough,” Knight said. “But the drought opened everyone’s eyes. It showed that the river is a limited supply of water.”

In an emergency, the current storage reservoir at the treatment plant only holds enough for a three-day supply of water. The plan is to build a 92-acre reservoir at the Catawba plant, located near S.C. 5 and the Catawba River. The addition would allow for a 30-day supply of water.

“We’re excited about our project,” Knight said. “It will help us provide the service we need to provide.”

Mike Bailes, director of the Catawba River water treatment plant, said the new reservoir will help county residents in the event of a “worst-case scenario.”

“A drought buffer is what it is,” Bailes said. “This will also help downstream users because we won’t have to depend on the river in bad times, which would lower the river even further.”

The project calls for building a 110-foot-tall earthen dam about 700 feet from the Catawba River to help create the reservoir. Bailes said there won’t be any problems with runoff in the new reservoir because natural buffers will be planted around the lake.

The estimated cost to construct the new reservoir is $30 million, which will be split evenly between the Lancaster County district and Union County. Knight said the LCWSD will likely issue revenue bonds to pay for its $15 million portion of the project. The district won’t raise rates to pay for the project.

“We’re not asking for any money,” Knight said. “This is an educational process and we just want support from the community.”

Bailes said the reservoir facility will be secure, due to strict security rules put into place by the Department of Homeland Security,

“9-11 really changed our world,” Bailes said. “Now, we can’t even allow people to fish on the bank near the facility.”

Their next step is to present the project to Lancaster City Council and County Council within the next few weeks. Once permits have been granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, construction can begin. The permitting process can take up to 12 months and Bailes expects construction to last about 24 months. If all goes well, Bailes expects the project to be complete by 2013.

Bailes hasn’t heard much negative reaction from the community, but he said it’s important to educate the public about the expansion.

“I think we will have more yaysayers than naysayers,” he said.

Water supply project

The Catawba plant was built in 1993 as part of the Catawba River Water Supply Project between the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District and Union County. The idea for the joint venture was to store and provide high-quality water with lower costs for both counties.

“We both needed the same thing at the same time, and this allows us to share costs,” Knight said about the joint venture. “It also gives us better water quality.”

When the plant first went on-line, it could handle about 12 million gallons of water each day. Ten years later, that capacity had tripled to 36 million gallons a day. Water pumped from the river is screened and then either pumps to the on-site reservoir or to a treatment plant.

“It’s a true joint venture – a 50/50 joint relationship,” Knight said. “This is a great asset to the county and to the citizens of the county. We’ve been able to keep costs down.”

By Chris Sardelli, Contract Reporter with The Lancaster News