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Mayor: Water system being fixed ‘one leak at a time’

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An excavator shores up the Columbia Canal wall, which was damaged during the historic rainfall last weekend. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)


By Chuck Crumbo
Published Oct. 9, 2015

The battle to get the Columbia water system back up and running is progressing, but officials declined to say just when most of its 375,000 customers will be able to drink from the tap.

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Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, right, addresses the media during a press conference at Coble Plaza. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)
“We’re fixing the system one leak at a time,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said today at Coble Plaza where repair work on the Columbia Canal dam served as a backdrop to the daily media briefing.

Meanwhile, authorities said residents and businesses need to be on high alert because scam artists are out in full force.

Repairing the canal remains critical to restoring the system.

The weakened canal wall, eroded by the flood, restricts the size of heavy equipment necessary to lift and place sandbags and rock bags into place to reinforce the structure, said Joey Jaco, director of utilities and engineering.

One challenge in repairing the canal is the amount of water that’s flowing in the canal, Jaco said. However, since Thursday the level has dropped about a foot.

Workers have devised a plan to shut the flow off at the diversion dam to reduce how much water is moving through the canal as much as possible.

Workers also are walking the canal twice a day to look for further breaches, Jaco said.

“There are some signs of slope stability issues and sloughing further upstream that are being watched closely but are not presently a concern,” according to a statement issued by the city.

“We are closing in on that dam,” insisted Missy Gentry, assistant city manager.

While working to get the water system back to normal, authorities also urged customers to voluntarily conserve water.

In fact, city officials announced this afternoon that they are mandating that all irrigation systems connected to the city water system be turned off until further notice.

“Anyone owning or operating an irrigation system in the city water service area should turn off the system at its base,” the city said. “This will also ensure that if there are any breaks in an irrigation system, these leaks will not contribute to further water loss.”

The city also said it’s examining the possibility of require large water consumption customers to cut back. “This is in an effort to prioritize its water for basic service needs such as drinking, cooking, and sanitation,” the city said.

Residents and business owners need to be wary of anyone who approaches and claims to be with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or have a sign on their truck saying “FEMA approved,” said Sheriff Leon Lott.

Most of these scammers say they can help with insurance or file an insurance claim; however they’ll insist on a fee. Scammers offering to do repairs often demand a deposit.

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