Georgetown Co. officials turn their concerns to Waccamaw River levels following Florence

Georgetown Co. officials turn their concerns to Waccamaw River levels following Florence
Updated: Sep. 19, 2018 at 10:05 PM EDT
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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Georgetown County may have missed the brunt of Hurricane Florence's damage and devastation after it made landfall in the Carolinas, but the threat still isn't over.

Many businesses have reopened, and people have returned to their homes.

However, county officials said Wednesday they remain at OPCON 4 with partial activation of the Emergency Operations Center as they wait to find out how river flooding from Florence's heavy rainfall may impact Georgetown County.

While Georgetown County claims five rivers, the one causing the most concern for county officials is the Waccamaw River.

It spans across parts of northeastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina and ends its path in Winyah Bay.

It's a recognizable body of water if you've ever visited the City of Georgetown. The main Highway 17 bridge heading towards Pawleys Island takes you right over the junction with the two bodies of water.

North of Georgetown County, the Waccamaw River has inundated the City of Conway.

It's already in major flood stage, and it is forecasted to exceed levels from Hurricanes Matthew and Floyd by next week.

Officials in that part of South Carolina have been warning homeowners that everywhere that experienced flooding during Matthew will be inundated with water once again, and water will enter areas that have never seen high water before.

For Georgetown County, it's still a matter of waiting to see what this historic flooding will bring to the area.

Georgetown County Emergency Management officials had an in-depth meeting Wednesday with military and DNR representatives to discuss potential flooding that could begin sometime next week.

In a statement to Live 5 News, Georgetown County Public Information Officer Jackie Broach said, "New information has been received from the NWS and is being analyzed. In addition, we continue to consult with hydrologists and GIS professionals on this issue. As soon as we have conclusive information, we will update here. We understand that residents want definite forecasts so they can plan and prepare, and we will share one as soon as possible."

For all involved, pinpointing where the flooding may occur and just how much water will be involved is unfortunately a slow process, according to Broach.

Georgetown County Emergency Management's special 24-hour call line has been reactivated as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Officials are encouraging you to call (843) 545-3273 if you have questions regarding the potential for upcoming flooding.

The concern isn't only about damage to homes and other property, but also for damage to the environment.

According to our sister station, WMBF News, flood water from the Waccamaw River could potentially reach a 200,000 ton coal ash pile in Conway.

The pile is located on Santee Cooper's property on the site of the old Grainger Generating Station.

"Our main concern with the Waccamaw River right now is it could flood the coal ash ponds at the old Grainger facility. And if it does flood and inundate those sites, we could have potential contaminants in the river," said Waccamaw River Keeper Cara Schildtknecht.

Coal ash contains heavy metal like arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium.

"Those can be harmful to humans and to animals," said Schildtknecht.

While Santee Cooper says it's unlikely, Southern Environmentalist say contaminating drinking water could be possible and it could also be hazardous to our wildlife.

"It does impact fish and some of those products could be bio accumulators which means once they enter the food chain, they could climb up further in the food chain," said Schildtknecht. "If you eat fish out of the river and they contain those heavy metals you're going to have a problem," she added.

Getting contaminants out of the water would be difficult.

Dredging would be one of the only solutions.

"The sedimentation of those metals would mean they stay in the river for a long time," said Schildtknecht

While the water creeps closer, Santee Cooper says they're working hard to make sure flood waters do not make their way to the coal ash.

Officials say workers built a temporary levee to protect the ash ponds, and they're pumping water from the Waccamaw into the pond to help balance the pressure.

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