Governor makes $500M announcement in Great Falls

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster chose Great Falls as the backdrop for his announcement of his plan to ask the General Assembly to allocate $500 million of the state’s share of the federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fund major improvements to revitalize the state’s water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure in the poorer rural counties like Chester County.

The proposal would modernize rural water systems statewide, providing safe drinking water and the infrastructure needed for economic development in our rural communities.

The state stands to receive a total of $2.4 billion in ARPA funds. Governor McMaster said the ARPA funds provide South Carolina with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make big, bold and transformative investments in the state that will benefit the sate now and for generations to come.

“We must seize this moment, and set our state on a proper course, a good course, a positive course for prosperity and success that will last for generations,” he said. The ARPA law specifically identifies water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure as eligible activities on which to spend and invest this money.

“Our state’s rural water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure is becoming old and outdated. In some place it’s barely functioning and (repairs) are expensive. According to the Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) the average age of a water and sewer system in our state is 47-50 years old. Many of these systems have far exceeded their useful life,” he said.

According to the accelerateSC task force, established during the pandemic, smaller water entities in the state struggle to pay for needed improvements. “These improvements are those that would protect public health and the environment,” said McMaster. He said in South Carolina there are 262 public community water utilities and 201 public community wastewater utilities…most are owned and operated by local government or commissions…the S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) assists communities with financing for water and wastewater infrastructure…and has spent $174 million since its inception in 2013 assisting communities with water and wastewater infrastructure needs. The RIA will administer this additional $500 million in ARPA funds and will prioritize new infrastructure grants for water, sewer and stormwater based on three priorities:

Economic Development: To increase economic development in our rural counties funding will be centered around tier III and tier IV counties. These counties are identified by the S.C. Department of Revenue based on the county’s unemployment rate and per capita income. The lower the county’s score, the higher the tier. With water and sewer capacity being critical to where a company decides to locate, many of these counties that lack modernized systems have little opportunity to attract new jobs and investment.

McMaster clarified that when he referred to “poor” counties, he means as far as money and income “and not the talents of the people.”

Public Health: To ensure safe drinking water, monies will be prioritized for upgrading water and wastewater systems that are not in compliance with state regulations. Most of these water systems are in rural communities that do not possess the resources or tax base to upgrade or replace their water systems.

Regionalization: Similar to consolidating school districts, funds will be spent to incentivize large municipal water and sewer systems to connect to smaller systems. This consolidation will provide cheaper, more efficient service.


McMaster said the RIA is currently conducting a survey of water, wastewater and stormwater utilities to assess funding needs over the next five years.

“In rural South Carolina – water and sewer are key to life. They are the key to good health. They are the key to economic health. The right water and sewer systems in a county can transform a tax base, creating jobs, good schools, and a safe and vibrant community,” McMaster said.

“With this investment of $500 million into rural water, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure, we can ensure that South Carolina will have the workforce, the infrastructure, the intellectual capital, the environmental assets and the quality of life necessary to compete nationally and globally for jobs and investment – for generations to come.”

“Our state is full of historic towns like Great Falls. These towns were the center of commence and trade. Water and sewer infrastructure was built to serve the mill villages, where workers lived and where businesses supplied the necessary goods and services. Many of these mill villages are working towards revitalization and transformation now, much like Great Falls is doing. But the infrastructure that supported these historic villages has become old and outdated and is no longer functioning at capacity. To continue to provide the critical water services that people need, our infrastructure needs to be modernized and upgraded to meet today’s standards,” said RIA Executive Director Bonnie Ammons.

But replacement is expensive and it will require substantial investment. Today’s announcement stands to be transformational in all corners of our state. Such investments will help to strengthen communities and put them in a position to succeed,” she said.

“Supporting aging infrastructure is particularly pressing in our rural and small communities, where such infrastructure maintenance has become an overwhelming expense,” she said.

“We realize that we have aging infrastructure across South Carolina,” said S.C. Municipal Association Executive Director Todd Glover, “but we also realize that the cost of rehabilitation of these systems a lot of times outpaces the ability of the ratepayers in these cities and towns to be able to afford to pay for the repairs. So access to these funds can be transformational to cities and towns across our state.”

Glover also said that investment in water and wastewater protects our environment, “and as a tourism-based state, it’s important that we protect our environment.”

Also, “investment in water and wastewater, as we know at MASC, is pure economic development,” he said.

“A lot of times we forget about water and waster water because it is underground but it is as important to economic development as roads and workforce,” Glover said. “I’ve been in local government for over 25 years, and not once in my career have I ever tried to recruit a business or industry into my town to locate on a septic tank.”

“Critical investments in rural infrastructure is not just about building new pipes, new well pumps and new lift stations. This funding will ultimately lead the improvements in the health and environment of rural communities, along with economic prosperity…” said SC DHEC Environmental Affairs Director Myra Reece.

Governor McMaster said the various utilities and municipalities will be able to apply for these funds when the General Assembly approves this appropriation. Bonnie Ammons said if the funds come through the RIA, the agency was prepared to put them to work as quickly as possible.

State Sen. Mike Fanning pointed out that Great Falls was a perfect example of the type of municipality that can benefit from these funds.

“We’ve got the capacity here in Great Falls, and it is a system that was part of the textile industry that came in…it could handle the capacities we have. Many people don’t know that we were able to get the E. & J. Gallo plant to South Carolina, but once we got the bill through, we still had a stumbling block: it was sewer. That sewer question could have killed the whole deal, even after Governor McMaster helped us get it passed in the Senate.

“And Great Falls has capacity, but it has an older system that needs some repairs and some upgrades. This proposal would provide us that lifeline support so that the next time a major industry wants to locate here, we will have extra capacity,” he said.

Fanning said the whitewater activities in Great Falls will bring new business, more people to the area, but none of that can be taken advantage of, unless the infrastructure is in place. These ARPA funds will help accomplish that.


Governor Henry McMaster said of his proposal for the distribution of the ARPA funds, “The right water and sewer systems in a county can transform a tax base, creating jobs, good schools, and a safe and vibrant community.”

By Brian Garner, Staff Reporter with The News & Reporter