By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
All that money invested in on-island infrastructure really does pay off. So the towns of Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms discovered when the single water main connecting them to the Charleston Water System went down on Wednesday, August 14.
The 20-inch water main, located under Charleston Harbor between James Island and Sullivan’s, provides drinking water to Sullivan’s and supplements the Isle of Palms’ supply. On the evening of August 14, Charleston Water System discovered a leak on the pipe just offshore of Fort Johnson. The cause of the leak in the almost 20 year old line is unknown.
Thankfully the Isle of Palms was able to use its reverse osmosis plant and standby well, which used to serve as the island’s only water supply until the main was installed in 1995, to once again serve its residents and Sullivan’s Island until the repairs were completed on Monday, August 18.
“It is great that we set up that back-up system to be able to reverse the system to take water from IOP,” said Sullivan’s Island councilmember Susan Middaugh. “It’s the second time we’ve used it.”
“Big kudos to all for having ‘fail safe; mechanisms in place and immediately mobilizing into action so citizens are relatively unaffected by this occurrence,” Linda Tucker, IOP City Administrator, said. “Situations like this test preparedness in times other than major disasters.”
The water from the backup system was safe to drink and met SCDHEC’s public health requirements, but it had a distinctly different taste and many users commented that it felt more “slippery.” To make sure there was enough water to meet summertime demands and provide fire protection, both islands issued temporary restrictions on outdoor watering and shut down dedicated irrigation meters.
“We want to thank both the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island for working with us to arrange an alternate supply while we got this pipeline repaired,” Kin Hill, Charleston Water System Chief Executive Officer, said. “The Isle of Palms has really come to the rescue in this situation and the cooperation among the three agencies has helped minimize the impact to all island residents.”
Initial repairs to the water main were completed Monday, August 18 and the leak was stopped on Sunday when divers installed a large clamp around the pipe. The line was put back in service late Monday after tests confirmed water quality meets all regulatory requirements.
Charleston Water System plans to install another specially-made clamp to provide additional reinforcement and protection for the underwater pipe. This work will not affect water service to the islands. It is estimated the leak cost the system 5,000 gallons of water a minute.