Communities across The Upstate tackle underground infrastructure issues

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Running water and indoor plumbing are key components of everyday life, and its the pipes running under our feet that are to thank for those luxuries. But, that infrastructure is crumbling and costly to fix.

Every day public utility services across The Upstate are working endlessly to keep those systems running. The average person will likely only think about what keeps everything going when it breaks.

So how do those lines stay up to date? What does the future of underground infrastructure look like? And most importantly, how much is it going to cost you?

What do you think about when you turn on a faucet, take a shower, or flush the toilet? Probably not a whole lot.

“It’s out of sight out of mind,” said Graham Rich, CEO of ReWa.

But there are thousands of miles of pipes running underneath your feet that make all of that possible.

Across The Upstate there are people like Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns keeping those pipes up to date.

“It’s a never ending battle and you’re always trying to catch the back of that truck. Because as soon as you think you see daylight there’s something else that goes wrong,” said Burns.

That’s because sewer and water pipes across the country have reached the end of their lifespan. So counties like Anderson are forced to repair and replace them at a rapid rate.

“We’re looking at the very best material and the best practices and the most modern practices,” said Burns.

Burns is even turning over part of his sewer system to ReWa, the leading sewer service in Greenville County.

“I call it a miracle every time you flush because it is a long journey down here to one of our treatment facilities,” said ReWa CEO Rich Graham.

Rich is in charge of more than two-thousand miles of buried sewer infrastructure. He’s also in the middle of one of the biggest infrastructure projects the City of Greenville has ever seen.

ReWa is getting ready to lower a tunnel boring machine into the ground and drill an 11-foot-wide tunnel under more than a mile of downtown Greenville.

“It will convey wastewater underground from one side of downtown to the other where we have more capacity in our existing lines,” said Rich.

Meanwhile, next door in Spartanburg county, Spartanburg Water CEO Sue Schneider is running not just sewer but also water lines for the county.

“What was the material, when was it put in, and what’s the demand on it,” said Schneider.

She has a laser focus on using the components existing infrastructure was built around, like the mills, to fuel what is needed next.

“A lot of the infrastructure in the upstate was done around the industry,” said Schneider. “To go ahead and repair and replace aging infrastructure with new technologies.”

If the work across the three counties sounds expensive, that’s because it is.

“Our council just recently allocated $28 million for refurbishment of old sewer lines and also the construction of new sewer lines,” said Burns.

The “Dig Greenville” project ReWa is pioneering costs $40 million.

“You have to understand the importance of a good sanitary sewer system and what it does to a community,” said Rich.

Schneider puts that cost into perspective.

“Every dollar that the sewer district has invested in infrastructure has returned $27,” said Schneider.

Economic growth is the key when it comes to revamping infrastructure in The Upstate. Schneider says businesses in areas like Highway 290 are only there because of the existing sewer system.

“Prospectively putting in infrastructure to plan for growth is key,” said Schneider.

She’s not the only one who sees it that way.

“The fact that we’re able to put sewer in certain locations helps us to grow but it also helps us to grow strategically,” said Burns.

He says they’re working on this in Anderson County right now as well. TTI chose it’s location off Highway 28 largely in part to the sewer system.

And the “Dig Greenville” project is all about future growth in the city while allowing life above ground to continue uninterrupted.

“You won’t know that anything is happening there. it will be underground and no one will know what’s going on,” said Rich.

These problems, solutions and costs aren’t unique to The Upstate, or even to South Carolina.

That’s why public utility systems and counties plan ways to pay for the work–including reserve funds, grants and bonding.

So instead of thinking of it as money flushed down the toilet, consider–at least for a moment–the pipes and people that make it all possible.

“It’s just a lot of things that go into it for something that costs a whole lot of money that you bury under the ground and you never think about until something goes wrong,” said Burns.

If laid end-to-end, the Spartanburg Water’s sewer lines would reach from its downtown location to Denver, which is about 1,300 miles long.

If you want to help the systems run smoother, public utility experts ask that you don’t pour grease down your drains. They’re also begging you not to flush things that don’t belong down the toilet.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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