By Sarita Chourey –
COLUMBIA – Death and property loss hit South Carolina during the historic flood, but more than a month later, mosquitoes, standing water and excessive storm water runoff are refusing to let the state return to normal. “Everybody in this state is struggling with the issue of storm water,” said Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, during a House committee meeting Wednesday.
On older properties, residents had ditches running through their back yards, he said. Those ditches were eventually filled in, which led to water backing up onto other properties.
“People who have never had flooding issues before, all of a sudden got water backing up under their house and don’t know where it’s going,” said Bingham.
“That infrastructure has got to go in, or it is going to cripple us.”
But he said strengthening drainage infrastructure will be expensive, and governments don’t want to take ownership of the task.
The result is standing water, which allows mosquitos to thrive. Counties are running out of resources to control the insects, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, told S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Heigel. “What is amazing to me is how DHEC can take the attitude that infectious disease which mosquitoes carry is not something that is in their bailiwick,” said Cobb-Hunter, adding that the agency shouldn’t dump the responsibility on counties. Heigel responded that the agency takes the risk of mosquito-borne diseases very seriously and already helps at the county level. “I am absolutely open to a conversation about mosquito control on a broader level, because as I noted there are counties where they have no capability whatsoever,” said Heigel.
“I agree with you it’s a public health threat. There’s no question.”
Wednesday’s committee meeting was lawmakers’ latest attempt to determine how much the catastrophic flood, which killed 19 people, would cost the state. Among those to report to the committee were officials from the hard-hit Midlands region.
Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson said there has been no system-wide boil-water notice in recent memory like the one experienced last month.
For 10 days nearly 400,000 people lost access to secure drinking water, when a 60-foot stretch of the Columbia Canal was breached, dropping the water level too low for the city to pump its water into the treatment plant.
More than 100 streets were closed or impassable, while several sewer and water lines ruptured. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin spoke about the 11 trillion gallons of water that had soaked the state, leaving whole neighborhoods underwater and lives lost and interrupted.
“Thousands of families are still in crisis, and their needs are very real and very immediate,” Benjamin said. Arcadia Lakes Mayor Mark Huguley said the flood had eroded the town’s identity. Its motto is “seven lakes, one town,” but since the flood, he said, it’s more like “four lakes, one town.”