Editor's note: This is the first installment of an occasional series examining the impact of growth on local infrastructure.
FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- Underneath every new home and business lies a system of pipes that are seldom considered, but often used and frequently needed.
Last year, 48,000 feet of water main were installed in the Indian Land area to serve the more than 10,000 new homes expected in the next 10 years. The water and sewer district is building a storage tank in front of Indian Land Elementary School, upgrading the wastewater treatment plant at River Road to treat more wastewater, and upgrading a pump that sends water to a storage tank near the state line on Hwy. 521.
Without these improvements, residents would experience low water pressure and, potentially, no water available during peak hours, according to Lancaster County Water and Sewer Director Mark Knight. Fire code regulations couldn't have been met without the improvements, he added.
"We would have essentially stopped growth," Knight said.
The cost of the district's recent improvements totals $7 million. Most of those improvements are occurring in Indian Land, Knight said. In all, the water and sewer district has $30.6 million in improvements planned over the next 15 years, provided growth continues as expected.
The planned improvements include upgrading the Catawba River treatment plant to increase its capacity from 36 million gallons per day to 54 MGD, more improvements to both the wastewater treatment plant and technical improvements to the Catawba River treatment plant. The cost of those improvements is paid by the new residential and commercial developments. For every single-family home built, a capacity fee is charged- $1,075 for water and $2,290 for sewer.
West of Sugar Creek, water and sewer issues are big concerns in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and the unincorporated parts of the township.
Last year, Tega Cay installed a new sewer line under the Catawba River that connects to Rock Hill's sewer system. It allows the city to send as much as 4 MGD of sewage to the Rock Hill treatment plant. The line can carry up to 8 MGD, but the Tega Cay Utility Department will have to work with Rock Hill to reserve the additional 4 MGD capacity at the plant before it could exceed the initial capacity already approved.
That initial 4 MGD should be enough to cover all of the approximately 1,100 existing customers of the TCUD as well as all the new homes and businesses planned in Stonecrest, Serenity Point and the Gardendale project, City Manager Grant Duffield said. All future developments in the city will also tie into TCUD at the developer's expense.
The city buys water from Fort Mill in an agreement that provides up to 1.6 MGD of potable water. The city had been eyeing a plan to install a new water line that would tie into the Rock Hill water system. That project was put on hold when York County and Rock Hill announced a plan to build a new county water line in the township, city building official Tom Goebels said.
"Now we're going to reassess, we don't know if it will help us directly or peripherally," Goebels said. "It may take some of the burden off of the county and give us a little more capacity (through the Fort Mill system)."
More demands on the city's water system may require it to install another water tower in the future, which could cost $800,000 or more, or a booster pump, which would be a less expensive option initially, but comes with yearly maintenance costs, Duffield said.
Preparing for the future is the driving force behind a regional planning effort around water and sewer issues that Duffield helped organize between Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and York County. The planned county water line is one of the results of that task force.
"It has been a nice asset to have that group in place to do regional utility planning," Duffield said. "Everyone in this area is still growing and the intent is to lay the groundwork to meet those needs, hopefully without duplicating costs."
Building the new water line could take as much as two and a half years. In the meantime, the drought is helping ease strains on the system's existing capacity, especially during peak flow times because of conservation efforts, county engineer Marc Kettlewell said.
Fort Mill has some problems of it's own to deal with in addition to growth. The town's water and sewer system includes sections that are more than 60 years old. This summer more than half of the town lost water service when a pipe near downtown burst.
Town Manager David Hudspeth said Fort Mill has a solution, it will install 10 cutoff valves along some of the older water lines at a cost of about $120,000. The valves will allow workers to shut off water to smaller sections of pipe and make repairs or replace lines without taking down vast swaths of the town's water system, according to Town Engineer Paul Mitchell.
Thanks to Tega Cay's new sewer line, Fort Mill has more capacity available in its sewer lines and at its sewer treatment plant, where it can process 3 MGD. That capacity will likely expand to 5 MGD in the coming years to deal with developments like Massey, Kanawha and the recent Clear Springs annexations.
At 5 MGD, the plant will most likely be at its maximum capacity, Mitchell said. A second phase of sewer capacity expansion will depend on "how much larger we get." The town may seek to expand the plant further, pipe the sewage to Rock Hill or build a new plant.
Additionally, over the next 20 years, Fort Mill will be working with Clear Springs to connect developments spread over approximately 2,700 acres with the existing system. Making those connections will allow the town to rework some lines, eliminating as many as 10 force mains to take advantage of natural basins and use gravity fed lines, Mitchell said.