Gllls Creek Watershed Association

Dam Update November 9, 2016

At the November Technical Committee meeting, Jill Stewart the Director of the Dam Safety and Stormwater Permitting Division at DHEC updated the committee on the status of dams in the watershed. This information also contains updates from Dan Creed of Heritage Engineering who is working with Spring Lake, Upper and Lower Rock Ford Lakes, and Cary Lake.

Wildewood Pond 2 (aka Beaver Dam Rd or Boyds Pond 2), Forest Lake, Lake Katharine - minor repairs completed, cleared for normal operation.

Spring Lake - Plans are complete, permits are in hand, the construction contract is executed, and work is expected to commence in a week or two. (road closed)

Upper Rockyford - Plans are complete, Land Disturbance and DHEC Dam Safety permits are in hand, and the construction contract is being negotiated. (road closed)

Lower Rockyford - Plans are complete, Land Disturbance and DHEC Dam Safety permits are in hand, and the construction contract is being negotiated. (road closed)

Cary Lake - Plans will be completed in the next week or so and permit submittals will be made while the project is bid. (road closed)

Lower Windsor Lake - Plans in DHEC review.

Arcadia Woods Lake - Lawsuit settled, homeowners now own dam (road closed)

Pine Tree Lake - Now classified as high hazard and under DHEC authority (two roads closed)

Dam on Old Still Road in Wildewood area - Now classified as high hazard and under DHEC authority (road closed)

Gills Creek Watershed Association 2016 Annual Report


Gills Creek Watershed Association Interactive Projects Map

Take a look at GCWA's project map where past, current and planned projects are noted. Click on the push pins for more info. There is a link on this page to a GIS type map where you can change base maps and turn layers on and off. We will be updating this map as projects are added or change status. You can also search on your address to see if you are in the watershed!

City of Columbia 'Where's Your Watershed'

The City has deployed a web page with information about the watersheds in Columbia including Gills Creek. The page also includes water monitoring reports for 3 locations on Gills Creek beginning in September 2013.

Gills Creek Watershed Association Newsletter

December 9, 2016

GCWA "The Big Splash" Newsletter

In This Issue: Owens Field Green Infrastructure Site Visit, Pen Branch Water Quality Monitoring, Little Jackson Creek Stream Restoration Project Wins Award, Upcoming Events

Subscribe to the Gills Creek Watershed Big Splash Email Newsletter.

Read previous The Big Splash eNewsletters...

Gills Creek Watershed In The News

Wednesday, December,7 2016 - Free Times

Flood Fight: Owner of Damaged Devine Street Building Sues Neighbor

By Andy Shain
"The owner of the damaged building most identified with Columbia’s historic 2015 flood is suing the owner of an adjacent shopping center in a dispute over road access that has halted potential redevelopment of the site next to Gills Creek.
The blue-roofed building on Devine Street that housed an auto title loan and tax preparation businesses stands ravaged more than a year after the creek swelled to nearly 20 feet in the once-in-a-1,000-year storm. More than 30,000 motorists pass by the dilapidated building each day."

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - Richland County

Creek Restoration Project in Northeast Richland County Wins Engineering Award

"Little Jackson Creek in Northeast Richland County is getting a much-needed makeover to help control flooding, improve water quality and better protect its surrounding natural habitat.
From its headwaters in the Spring Valley subdivision to its confluence with Jackson Creek near Dentsville, Little Jackson Creek flows for nearly five miles. Over the past few decades, sections of the meandering waterway have transformed into deep ditches, leading to severe erosion and an impaired aquatic habitat. These detrimental changes are a result of the watershed’s highly impervious, pre-regulation development and urban stormwater runoff, as well as damage from the October 2015 flood.
Today, more than 1,500 feet of the creek and nearly nine acres of surrounding wetlands have been successfully restored."
Read more here...

October 26, 2016 - Politics & Government - The State

SC panel OKs 2 proposals to toughen dam-safety law

By Avery G. Wilks
"COLUMBIA, SC - Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Matthew broke 25 more S.C. dams, an S.C. House panel agreed Wednesday on legislation that would tighten the state’s dam-safety law.
The panel will suggest that S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, file a bill in December to give state regulators oversight over more dams and, also, require dam owners to register with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control"
Read more here...

October 20, 2016 - South Carolina Public Radio

Greenville County Lets The Floodplains Flood

By Alexandra Olgin
"Buying out homes isn’t a new idea. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been doing it for a while. The agency said a few other localities in the Southeast have similar programs to Greenville. What makes Greenville County’s program unique, is the proactive buy outs funded with local storm water monies."
Read and listen here...

September 30, 2016 - Local - The State

Pilot flood-control program in Shandon has limited success

By Clif LeBlanc
"COLUMBIA, SC - The cost and trouble of an innovative, nearly $1 million flood-control effort on a couple of blocks in some of the most flood-prone parts of Shandon has fallen short of expectations.
'The Shandon project has come in a lot higher than we expected,' assistant city manager Missy Gentry recently told City Council. Initial costs forced the city to slash the size of the project by two-thirds, said a city engineer who oversaw the project."
Read more here...

September 28, 2016 - Cover Story - Free Times

Rain Out: How the October Flood Changed Columbia

By Free Times
"As the first anniversary approaches, state and Columbia-area officials warn the region could get flooded again given recent climate changes and damage from the storm last year.
After several days of rain, a storm drenched the Midlands with more than a foot of water on Oct. 4 — bursting dozens of dams, closing hundreds of roads and bridges, and displacing enough people to fill Colonial Life Arena. Nine people died in Richland County, all from drowning when driving through roads flooded in what’s been called a 1,000-year storm."

September 9, 2016 - Local - The State

With a reintroduction, can Gills Creek and Columbia come to good terms?

By Sarah Ellis
"What is Gills Creek, this stream that bubbles up from beneath Hughes Pond among extravagant WildeWood homes?
It is the creek we took for granted, forgot, until our abrupt, violent reintroduction in the floods of last October.
Some of the cleanest water in the watershed is here; it hasn’t had a chance to be polluted yet. Upstream development and runoff will eventually sully the water quality, but not here."
Read more here...

July 07, 2016 -

Community organizations call for ‘citizen scientists’ to keep waterways clean, safe

By Karla Turner
"There is a new plan to empower Columbia residents to do something about the health and safety of their waterways.
Rocky Branch Watershed Alliance, Smith Branch Watershed Alliance, City of Columbia Stormwater Management, Richland County Stormwater Management and Clemson Extension have received training in the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream stewardship program."

June 26, 2016 - Opinion Extra - The State

To cut flood risk, tackle stormwater problem

October dam failures were a symptom of much larger problem: bad land development and corresponding stormwater runoff

Overbuilding means Gills Creek, tributaries no longer function like a natural stream during high flows and floods

Stormwater utility fee & fee credits encourage developers and property owners to reduce their impervious surfaces and runoff

By Erich Miarka, Guest Columnist
The October floods were an eye-opening event that cost lives and billions of dollars in damage. This may have been a 1,000-year storm event, but that does not mean we will never see anything like it again. It is imperative that we find a comprehensive solution to myriad problems surrounding Gills Creek Watershed, with flooding certainly at the forefront.
This is a challenge that individuals and even neighborhoods cannot address on their own; it requires a mutual, shared responsibility across the watershed.

June 20, 2016 - South Carolina Public Radio

Smart, Post-Flood Rebuilding Should Limit Rebuilding

By Thelisha Eaddy
During the Flood, Gills Creek Watershed Association (GCWA) Program Director Erich Miarka was driving around looking to see where he could help.
“I just drove in circles for three days, trying to see what had failed, what hadn’t failed, what was on the verge of failing.” Miarka said he posted information about what he saw on the Association’s Facebook page. “I was trying to get out there and see as much of the watershed as possible.”
“A lot of other communities, use their river or stream corridors in the floodplains as paths of recreation that could be something like a greenway; like a walking and biking trail.” Miarka said the Little Sugar Creek in Charlotte, NC had a lot of similar issues that Gills Creek is currently dealing with.
Read and listen to more...
June 19, 2016 - Local - The State

Four Richland County neighborhoods weigh new tax for dam repairs

Voters go to the polls Tuesday in the Midlands’ first referendum to repair broken dams

A ‘yes’ vote could add up to $3,500 to annual property tax bills, possibly for 30 years

Voters in each area must agree to proposal; only those neighborhoods would be taxed

By Tim Flach
RICHLAND COUNTY, SC - Four small neighborhoods are in the forefront of developing a way to repair some of the 45 Richland County dams destroyed or severely damaged by floods from record rain in October.
Homeowners in each of the Northeast Richland neighborhoods will go to the polls in the next two months to decide whether to tax themselves extra – possibly for as long as three decades – to replace dams that either broke or need strengthening.
In three of the four areas, houses now ring an empty lake bed. A “yes” vote would restore the dams and bring back water. Beaver Lake’s dam, which still holds back water, would be strengthened.

May 30, 2016 - Local - The State

Riverkeeper checks for pollution when state regulators don’t

Environmental group pays for water monitoring in places where state agency doesn’t check

DHEC monitoring program sustained years of cuts

Congaree Riverkeeper finds elevated bacteria levels in some creeks

By Sammy Fretwell
COLUMBIA, SC - Bacteria levels high enough to make people sick showed up in recent water samples at Rocky Branch, an urban stream that empties into the Congaree River.
It was the latest in a series of test results indicating that Rocky Branch is polluting the big river where people swim, fish and wade. But no one would know about the pollution if they depended on the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. DHEC doesn’t test the creek near the Congaree.
Instead, the job has largely fallen on the Congaree Riverkeeper group, a non-profit environmental organization. The group spends at least $5,000 a year checking rivers and creeks like Rocky Branch in an attempt to keep the public informed about water quality.
April 1, 2016 - Local - The State

Development boom in Columbia area contributed to dam failures, researchers say

Dams at Covington Lake, Old Mill Pond slammed by upstream runoff, researchers say
Explosion in growth blamed for increasing water flow that weakened dams
Stronger dams advocated in increasingly urbanized areas

"Booming growth and development in parts of the Columbia area likely contributed to the failure of dams during last fall’s devastating floods, researchers at the College of Charleston have concluded.
Instead of soaking into the ground, rain that fell during last October’s massive storm ran off pavement in areas that have grown dramatically since 2001 – and that increased the force of water working its way toward dams downstream, according to research presented Friday during a conference in Columbia.
March 28, 2016 - Local - The State

Demands begin in Columbia, Richland County for flood buyouts

More than 70 property owners in city, Richland County interested
Number expected to rise
Buyouts seen as preferable to paying for expensive repairs

By Avery G. Wilks
"COLUMBIA, SC - More than 70 property owners in Richland County have told officials they are interested in selling their properties to transform them into green space.
And that number is likely to rise as more residents respond to letters from Columbia and Richland County asking about their interest in a buyout.
March 5, 2016 - The Buzz - The State

Unclear when broken SC roads over dams will be fixed

Roads atop broken dams still out five months after flooding
Private dam owners grappling with how to pay for repairs
More than 14,000 Richland drivers must take detours around roads

By Cassie Cope
"COLUMBIA, SC - Business at Steve Peter’s gas station on Wilson Boulevard has dropped 90 percent since the road atop Lake Elizabeth Dam was washed out during the historic flood in October.
The flooding washed out hundreds of roads across South Carolina, the majority of which have been reopened.

But it is unknown when 23 S.C. roads, including 11 in Richland County, over failed privately owned dams will reopen. More than 14,000 drivers in Richland County have to find new routes because of broken roads over failed dams.
Dam owners, in many cases homeowners associations, are grappling with how to raise money to make repairs. None of the failed dams regulated by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control have submitted repair permit applications, according to the agency.
Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Transportation says repairing the dams is not the roads agency’s responsibility."
March 4, 2016 - South Carolina Public Radio

More Than 200 Comments Help Shape the Path Of Gills Creek Greenway

By Thelisha Eaddy
The Gills Creek area in Columbia received over 20 inches of rain during the historic October 2015 flood. As residents continue the cleanup and re-building process, many are also battling another item of concern.
Three weeks ago, residents shared their thoughts during a public meeting about a proposed greenway to be built in the area. The greenway would consist of four miles of concrete sidewalk with bridges, boardwalks and supporting facilities. The project would run between Kilbourne and Bluff roads in Richland County.
February 11, 2016 - Local - The State

Gills Creek neighbors have mixed reactions to proposed greenway

Hundreds attended public input meeting where first draft of project was presented
A number of people said they have concerns about the security of their homes with a public greenway close by

By Sarah Ellis
"Hundreds of neighbors of Gills Creek attended a meeting to give their input on a proposed greenway that could stretch from the southern tip of Lake Katherine to Bluff Road. It stands to affect hundreds of residents whose homes suffered badly four months ago when floodwaters gushed from Gills Creek, particularly in the neighborhoods near Lake Katherine, behind Woodland Park off Garners Ferry Road and off South Beltline Boulevard."
November 21, 2015 - Local - The State

The team effort that saved a Columbia dam

Beaver Dam Lake dam needed hundreds of sandbags and tons of rock to keep from failing in October
State officials, contractors worked with residents to develop solutions to hold back water during massive flood
Efforts likely prevented a second punch to weakened dams downstream in populated areas

By Andrew Shain
"As rain poured and waters in Beaver Dam Lake rose on Oct. 4, Jim Lehman climbed into his orange kayak to clear pine straw clogging an opening that allows water to escape the dam.
Lehman’s efforts were futile during a storm that dumped three months of rain on the Columbia area in a single day. It was a sign of the difficulties to come for Lehman and his neighbors, who would spend the next four days struggling to keep the 24-foot dam in the WildeWood subdivision from bursting."
Read more here...
November 19, 2015 - Local - The State

Gills Creek the focus of contaminated fish study

EPA grants money for mercury study in Gills Creek
Polluted fish, subsistence fishermen targeted

"COLUMBIA, SC - The federal government will provide $30,000 to study the presence of mercury in fish that inhabit lower Gills Creek and to make residents in minority communities aware of the dangers the toxin presents."
Read more here...
November 18, 2015 - EPA News Releases from Region 4

The Gills Creek Watershed Association of Columbia, SC awarded $30,000 Environmental Justice Small Grant

"ATLANTA – An Environmental Justice Small Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been awarded to the Gills Creek Watershed Association. for their project titled: Exposure to mercury through subsistence fishing: Assessment and outreach in underserved communities in Gills Creek Watershed, SC. The Gills Creek Watershed Association is one of 40 non-profit and tribal organizations selected for award of nearly $1.2 million in competitive grants for work to address environmental justice (EJ) issues nationwide. "
Read more here...
November 8, 2015 - Opinion Extra - The State

Marcil: Gills Creek Watershed needs long-term governance

Healthy watershed allows stormwater to soak in rather than becoming concentrated run-off
More than 30 percent of the Gills Creek watershed is developed, with much of the floodplain and even floodway built upon
Public investment makes sense, given public benefits of well-managed watershed

By Valerie Marcil
"Columbia, SC - As individuals, members of the Gills Creek Watershed Association ache for those whose lives and property have been upended by the unprecedented flood event. We especially mourn for the lost lives. And we extend our thanks and gratitude for the local, state and federal responders, as well as the jon-boat navy and other volunteers who worked tirelessly to help those in distress and to begin to return order to our community."
Read more here...
October 31, 2015 - The State

Better coordination sought after dams break in SC flood

Talk starts about forming special district to oversee Gills Creek dams
District could provide organization for series of lakes
Residents could be taxed for dam maintenance

"COLUMBIA, SC - Days before a historic storm flooded the Gills Creek watershed, state regulators urged people who oversee dozens of community ponds to drain water so that heavy rains wouldn’t cause dams to break.
Property owners throughout the watershed are discussing whether to form a watershed management district, a quasi-governmental agency that would oversee dams and lakes to make sure they are managed as a unit, rather than individually as they are now. The watershed has about 100 lakes within an approximately 20-mile area, consultants say."
Read more here...
October 28, 2015 - The State

FEMA money unlikely to rebuild private dams, Heigel says

FEMA doesn’t fund private dam repair
DHEC forced to lower some ponds
Management of Gills Creek dams ‘somewhat disorganized’

Prospects are dim that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay to fix private dams that crumbled during a devastating storm in South Carolina earlier this month, the state’s environmental protection agency chief said Wednesday.
Catherine Heigel, who heads the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said FEMA might pay to restore public roads across dams, but not to repair or replace the dams themselves.
FEMA’s position is that “the dam is the private property owners’ responsibility to be rebuilt,” Heigel said during a Senate hearing in Columbia. “Then once that’s done, they’ll pay for the road repair.”
Read more here...
October 26, 2015 - Associated Press

Homeowners across South Carolina face big bills to fix dams following historic flood

By SEANNA ADCOX, Associated Press
"COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Across the state, 75 dams are under emergency repair orders — 28 of them in hard-hit Richland County, where floodwaters busted through or spilled over a series of earthen dams built decades ago along Gills Creek, which runs through the capital city area of Columbia. An engineer's detailed inspection, as well as repair or replacement plans, must be submitted by month's end to the state environmental agency [DHEC].
If owners don't comply with those orders, the agency "will hire a contractor to go in and take necessary action to protect public safety" and send the owners a bill, agency head Catherine Heigel told The Associated Press. That's in addition to a $1,000 fine. Owners could also face penalties of up to $500 daily.
Erich Miarka, the Gills Creek Watershed Association coordinator, said homeowner groups want to comply with the agency, but the orders caused confusion."
October 24, 2015 - The State

Thousands of dams avoid state inspections in South Carolina

State has 10,000 to 20,000 unregulated dams
Some failed during the historic storm this month
Experts suggest putting some smaller dams under state regulation

"COLUMBIA, SC - Thousands of dams across South Carolina go uninspected by state regulators every year because the structures aren’t considered significant enough to warrant government oversight.
But experts say some of these unregulated dams pose risks to people and property if they fail – particularly in urban areas like Columbia, where a massive rainstorm Oct. 4 broke numerous dams."
Read more here...
October 19, 2015 - The State

Q&A: Understanding what a ‘1,000-year storm’ means

Debate will swirl over when, how – or whether – to rebuild dams
Weighing the safety of those who live downstream
Use of taxpayer money for private dams, lakes is ‘tricky,’ legislator says

By Amy Clarke Burns - The Greenville News
"Does a 1,000-year rain really happen every 1,000 years?
In short: Not really. The 1,000-year – or 100-year or 500-year – terminology is really a shorthand way of talking about statistical probability and isn’t related to how often a certain event is expected to happen."
Read more here...
October 17, 2015 - The State

Will lakes be restored? Rebuilding dams will be costly

Debate will swirl over when, how – or whether – to rebuild dams
Weighing the safety of those who live downstream
Use of taxpayer money for private dams, lakes is ‘tricky,’ legislator says

"COLUMBIA, SC - The question of when, how – or whether – to rebuild dams has become a major point of discussion as the Columbia area continues to struggle with the effects of a flood so powerful that people fled their homes from the rapidly rising water."
Read more here...
October 16, 2015 - The State

SC agency orders lake levels dropped behind 63 Midlands dams

Emergency order affects 63 lakes and ponds, including 28 in Richland County and four in Lexington County
Lakes affected include Forest Lake, Lake Katherine, Spring Lake, Hughes Pond, Upper Rockyford Lake, Windsor Lake and Wildwood Pond 2 in Richland County
Dams broken at some of the lakes ordered lowered

"COLUMBIA, SC - The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has ordered the owners of potentially dangerous dams to lower lake levels or drain their lakes completely by Tuesday, according to agency records released Friday night."
Read more here...
October 14, 2015 - The Free Times

Land Buyouts Could Follow Flood

By Eva Moore
"One of the lasting images from last week’s storm was the Title Max and Liberty Tax building on Devine Street, nearly underwater, with a swollen Gills Creek flowing through its damaged walls.
The Title Max is one of many buildings that could face obstacles to rebuilding — either by federal flood regulation, or because local activists will be urging governments not to let people rebuild there."
Read more here...
October 10, 2015 - The State

What Columbia can learn from Nashville’s 2010 flood

Nashvillians say city’s swift response, collaborative spirit drove recovery

By Jamie Self
"In response to the flood, Nashville banned new commercial and residential development in areas highly prone to flooding. Those areas are closest to the water and, therefore, most susceptible to the most dangerous, fastest moving floodwaters.
The city also placed limits on property owners who wanted to rebuild in floodways. The new structure could not exceed its original size, and the first inhabitable level had to be four feet higher than federal flood standards.
City leaders say a home-buyout program was a huge help to flood victims. It also transformed flood-prone areas into green spaces."
Read more here...
October 10, 2015 - The State

Aging dams spark questions in waterlogged Columbia

There are approximately 2,400 regulated dams in SC, most earthen and privately maintained
There are approximately 48,000 dams not regulated by anyone
5 dams on Gills Creek, which stretches from northeast Richland County to the Congaree River, failed

One week ago today, after hours of intense rainfall, an obscure dam in northeast Richland County cracked and broke, blowing open a hole that sent muddy water through the earthen dike and down Jackson Creek.
What happened next contributed to the worst flooding many people have ever seen in Columbia, authorities say."
Read more here...
Posted: Oct 09, 2015 3:07 PM EDT - Updated: Oct 16, 2015 3:38 PM EDT - WIS TV

What happened with Gills Creek during the historic rain?

By Jeremy Turnage - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS)
As folks surrounding Gills Creek begin to build anew following this weekend's record-setting and devastating floods, we're getting a good idea just how the situation deteriorated so quickly.
Mobile users, tap here to see photos of the historic flooding.
Members of the Gills Creek Watershed Association posted an update on their website, giving us the first timeline of events that lead to around 20 inches of rain causing massive flooding in the area.
Older news items are available in our News Archive...
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