Edisto Beach water headed for history in fall

by | March 21, 2019 5:00 am

Last Updated: March 20, 2019 at 8:48 am

At the Walterboro-Colleton Chamber of Commerce State of Colleton program in late February, Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby told the audience that one day this fall would be historic for the beach community.
On that as yet undetermined day, Edisto Beach residents will be able to turn on the facet and ready-to-drink water will pour out. The water system will no long distribute water with a salty taste.
The water the Edisto Beach residents and vacationers have had coming out of their facets now, according to Edisto Beach Town Administrator Iris Hill, “is safe to drink, it is just not very tasteful. Like we say, it makes good grits.”
The water got its taste from higher concentrations of sodium chloride.
To try and make it more palatable, homeowners installed whole house or under-the-sink reverse osmosis equipment.
They could also make regular trips to the watering hole near the town hall, where for years the town has provided water treated by a reverse osmosis system free of charge.
A trip to the watering hole has become a tradition in Edisto Beach. “Everybody uses it, the visitors use it. It basically became a meeting place for people to come,” Hill said.
When the new treatment plant begins to send out Edisto beach’s new and improved water, Hill said, the town will decommission the watering hole. “We will probably leave the bulletin board up for people to come and see what is going on,” she added.
“We have a lot of homes that have the whole house or even the under the sink reverse osmosis systems,” Hill said. But after residents have given the new treated water the taste test, Hill said, she believes that those property owners are going to shut down those home systems.
“We are anticipating that there is going to be a decrease in consumption based on that,” she added.
“Those systems use a lot of water to create a gallon of water,” Hill said. The in-home systems use as much as five gallons of salty water to produce one gallon of drinkable water.
When the new treatment plant goes on line, Hill said, “they are going to be getting a gallon of water for a gallon of water.” The new treatment plant project was designed to address quantity and quality issues.
“I can’t see anyone using a dual system of reverse osmosis, especially since we have increased our rates to pay for the revenue bond,” Hill said. The town implemented two 15-percent rate hikes to pay for the $7.255-million revenue bond issued to pay for the plant’s construction. The bond will be in place for 30 years.
The town had already seen a drop in consumption after the rates went up.
The town’s water needs are a moving target — a typical February day sees the town’s customers using about 300,000 gallons daily.
During the Fourth of July holiday, the town can see consumption climb to 1.5 million gallons a day.
Addressing the water quality at the beach has been a topic of discussion for years. In 2002, the beach’s residents were asked if they wanted to foot the bill to cover the cost of bringing Charleston County water to the beach. The water could have come from John’s Island in a large pipe sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Voters said no.
The water treatment plant, constructed by the design-build team of Wharton-Smith Inc. and Thomas & Hutton, has started coming out of the ground at the town hall complex; it is near the town’s convenience site and wastewater treatment plant.
It will be 110×42-feet, two stories tall. The first-floor ceiling is going to be higher than normal — tall enough to contain a 300,000-gallon clear well to hold the treated water. That doubles the town’s water storage capacity.
The second floor will contain all the water treatment equipment.
The plant’s exterior of hardy plank siding and masonry will serve two purposes.
One purpose is cosmetic. “We wanted to make it not look industrial,” Hill said. “We hope it will fit well into the neighborhood.”
The second purpose is to help have a quiet treatment process. “It is not supposed to be noisy,” Hill said.
The most noise the plant produces will come once a week when the city is required to exercise the generators used to operate the plant if the electrical service goes out. To limit the inconvenience, Hill said the town plans on turning on the generators at lunchtime.
The original project called for the town to install two new water wells, connect them to three existing wells and run raw water transmission lines to the plant.
Then the raw water would undergo the reverse osmosis process, “which takes everything out of the water and then puts some things back in so the water so it tastes good,” Hill said.
Finally, the treated water goes into the city’s water distribution system.
But the original plan underwent a change. A third new well was added to the construction plans to eliminate the need to connect the three existing wells to the treatment plant. The move, Hill explained, eliminated a majority of the raw water transmission lines that would have had to be installed.
“We would have all of our assets reasonably close to each other. Eliminating the need for much of the raw water transmission lines means, you have less infrastructure that you have to maintain,” she said.
The existing wells will be maintained in case there is an emergency.
The two original new wells are under construction. The third well is still in the permitting phase.
Another pipe will run from the plant into the ocean, several hundred yards off shore.
That is the concentrate discharge. In reverse osmosis process, raw water is treated to remove the salt. Water containing all the salt removed during the treatment process is then discharged back into the ocean. That discharge will be tested according to South Carolina Department of Natural Resource standings “to ensure that we are not impacting anything in that area.”

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