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Tapping The Source

With the expanding construction of new planned developments on Johns Island - a proposed new 120-home golf community on more than 900-acres between Bohicket and River Roads and the proposed expansion of Freshfields Village, among many others - neighborhood groups are becoming more vocal on (among other issues) water usage. Although we may be surrounded by water, where does what flows out of your tap come from, and how much demand can be met?

The quick answer for Seabrook Island's water source, of course, is our island's Utility Commission which oversees the maintenance of our water and sewer lines. But our drinking water comes from off-island, piped in from St. Johns Water which supplies all of Johns Island; and St Johns Water, in turn, gets its water from the county-owned Charleston Water System. So where does CWS' water come from?

Charleston's only remaining aquifer pump

Providing potable water to a rapidly growing city has been a concern since the city's founding in the 17th-century, when water from creeks and rivers was collected in holding tanks for general use. By the 19th century, after the bacterial basis of cholera and diphtheria epidemics were understood and had been traced to contaminated communal water sources, Charleston undertook geologic surveys to locate underground sources of fresh water, the first of which was an aquifer located under Marion Square. (The last remaining downtown aquifer pump still stands downtown, although long disconnected.) By the turn of the 20th century, the city's explorations had ventured further inland to discover deep aquifers held in ancient geologic layers near Goose Creek and Hanahan; and by 1917, CWS was supplying clean water from protected watersheds fed by these aquifers and from the Edisto River, collected in reservoirs, piped to treatment plants and, eventually, to us.

One of Seabrook's three holding tanks

Although water demand on Seabrook remains well below available supply according to the SIUC, our island/s water supply is still impacted by growing demand elsewhere. The planned developments noted above on Johns Island would all draw water from St. Johns Water. Meanwhile, the South Carolina DNR reports that parts of the state, including coastal areas, have been gradually sinking, partly due to reductions in water table levels.While we may take water for granted, sustainable growth is key to protecting this most critical foundation of island life.

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