FLORENCE, S.C. – A series of unfortunate events, starting Sept. 14 with Hurricane Florence, culminated in a water problem that left many city of Florence water customers with either low pressure or no pressure Wednesday.
Portions of Florence have been placed under a boil water advisory that could be lifted Thursday afternoon based on water tests.
Starting Wednesday morning Storm-related water treatment issues limited the city's ability to provide clean water at a great enough volume to meet demand, and the system lost pressure and customers lost service.
That water problem caused Florence One Schools and Florence-Darlington Technical College to dismiss classes around noon and for the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation Library on South Dargan Street to close at 10:45 a.m.
"With the effects of (Hurricane) Florence, the [Great] Pee Dee River has changed dramatically in water quality both as a result of debris and sediment in the river itself but also in the chemical makeup of the river and the alkalinity of the river," Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference to address the water situation. "That has wreaked havoc as our treatment plant has tried to keep up with the changing water and its effects.”
The surface water plant provides 4 million to 5 million gallons per day of the city's demand of 10 million to 12 million gallons per day, Florence City Manager Drew Griffin and Wukela indicated during the news conference.
Problems started Thursday when the city lost power to its Great Pee Dee River water intake. Because of high water, it was unable to get out to the plant to refuel the generator that had been powering the intake plant. Power to the intake was restored Friday afternoon.
The city also had several of its wells offline for scheduled maintenance, something that wouldn't have been a problem under normal circumstances, the mayor said.
"As a result, the system has had difficulty keeping up with the pressures to operate the system as we expect to operate the system on a daily basis," Wukela said.
"That was accentuated this morning when changes in the river itself caused us to power down the surface water operation and, at the same time in the morning hours, folks got up, took showers, cooked breakfast and businesses started operating, which generated increased demands on the system.”
Griffin said he had water pressure during his Wednesday morning shower, but between the end of his shower and going to get a glass of water before walking in to work, his residence downtown lost water pressure.
Griffin said he was on the phone with the Michael Hemingway, the city’s utilities director, when Hemingway started receiving other calls about water pressure.
At the city center Wednesday, there was water on the first two floors but no water on the third or fourth floor, Griffin said.
Normally the city tries to operate the water system on 50-60 psi of pressure and, as of Wednesday afternoon, it was working in the mid 30 psi, Griffin said.
That was especially problematic for the schools, which have bathroom systems that work on high pressure, low volume that require 40-50 psi to function properly.
Water pressure in the city's system is maintained through elevated water tanks that the city will be working to refill overnight and into Thursday, the city manager said.
Griffin said his office has been in contact with the school system throughout the day to keep the current on the situation.
The city manager said he expected water pressure in the system to start to climb again after 9 p.m.
Griffin said the city would have much work to do over the next three to four days and that if the utility is able to keep its surface water plant online and produce water that meets drinking water standards, then the water system will recover quickly. If not, recovery will be slower.
Utility crews will be out at the plant throughout the night along with other staff stationed around the system to monitor water pressure, Griffin said.
He also asked utility customers to do what they could to conserve water by not running it needlessly, taking shorter showers and generally using less water.