Water restrictions, sewage spills: Lake Murray town’s aging infrastructure struggles

For the second time in less than a year, a spot along the shores of Lake Murray has been placed under water-use restrictions as the town of Chapin works to make water and sewer upgrades to keep up with the demand in the growing areas that are tied into its system.

The oldest parts of the system serving Chapin and surrounding areas date back to 1968, and while Nicholle Burroughs, the town administrator, said it is working to upgrade the aging infrastructure, she also noted that Chapin can’t control residential development, and the demand that comes with it, in the areas outside its town limits.

Starting June 20, customers tied into the Amicks Ferry Water System are directed to conserve water where possible and not use landscape sprinkler systems between 4:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. each day.

In announcing the restrictions, the town noted the measure comes “due to extremely high water-use demands that are occurring during the morning hours on this water system,” noting that “the issue is caused by the dry hot weather and we expect this restriction to be lifted in September as the weather and water use changes.”

The Amicks Ferry area was put under similar restrictions for just shy of a month between August and September last year.

“There are several factors that have caused an increased demand during the peak times in the Amicks Ferry Water system,” Burroughs said via email, “including a high percentage of customers utilizing irrigation systems at the same time, the geographic location requiring longer travel commutes to employment centers concentrating morning preparations to a condensed time period and business operations of our current water supplier which at times reduces the flow received to the town of Chapin tank.”

The administrator said that increased population in the area is also a factor.

“We’re continuing to look at ways to improve the infrastructure,” she said. “There is a significant amount of investment that needs to be made over the next, I would say, decade and these are major projects that just cost a lot of money and a lot of time.”

She said the town is currently strategizing ways to execute and fund $47 million in improvements to its system, which, according to the town website, buys water from the Columbia Water system and serves its water customers with a 250,000-gallon tank and a wastewater treatment plant that processes 2.4 million gallons per day.

The system, maintained by the town of about 1,900, reports serving more than 4,000 area residents.

“Future upgrades planned for this system include a second connection point on Amicks Ferry Road to provide additional flow during our high flow needs and also a secondary source to prevent interruption of service during main breaks,” Burroughs said. “The town is currently in the process of designing this second connection for the application of a construction permit for installation. In addition, the city of Columbia plans to install an additional 500,000-gallon water tank that will further relieve this problem.”

Chapin has seen other water and sewer issues in recent years beyond the restrictions called for in the Amicks Ferry area, including a pair of roughly 2,000-gallon sewage leaks near Lake Murray in 2022 and 2023.

Burroughs noted that “based on our records, city of Columbia owns and maintains lines that service our territory from 1968 and while limited, they are still in active use. The town of Chapin wastewater treatment system was created in 1986 and we have continued to make enhancements over the years. While there have been significant upgrades over time this aging infrastructure will have to be replaced.”

The administrator said the town does have to affirm that its system can handle new developments in the area as part of the approval process, but she added that it’s obligated to take them on if the system has the capacity. County officials pushed back on this notion.

Charli Wessinger, the Lexington County councilwoman who serves the Chapin area, said the town can opt out of serving new developments. She added that Chapin takes on water and sewer for new developments to keep new utility providers from pushing into the area.

“It’s not necessarily a chicken and the egg,” Wessinger said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, all this development has been allowed, which is now why we have a water issue.’ In order for the development to be approved, that developer has to get approval from the water and sewer provider first.”

Beth Carrigg, the chair of County Council, asserted it’s not about slowing growth in the area for Chapin, but making sure the town benefits from it.

“I feel like the town of Chapin wants to aggressively annex,” Carrigg said. “They’ve said they want to have a seat at the table for the (Central Midlands Council of Governments). They want to grow their municipality so that they can have more tax money to be able to continue to do what they want to do in the municipality. I think there’s a time and a place for that. I just think they’re being very aggressive about it. And I’m not sure that the residents that live in the unincorporated areas of Chapin actually want property to be annexed and grow that quickly.”