After the flood, a rush to preserve drinking water

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Raw: National Guard Delivers Sandbags to SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina's capital city had too much water. Now, officials are racing to make sure it has enough.

A canal that serves as the main source of drinking water for about half of the Columbia water system's 375,000 customers collapsed in two places following historic rainfall and flooding over the weekend, sending contractors scrambling to build a rock dam to plug the holes while National Guard helicopters dropped giant sandbags in the rushing water.

Water from the canal normally flows directly into the reservoir at the city's water treatment plant. But with the water level falling because of the levee breach, workers were forced to place orange pumps on the banks of the canal to pump water directly into the reservoir. And if that wasn't enough, the city had plans to pump water directly from the nearby Broad River.

Officials sought to beat back rampant rumors of an imminent water shortage.

See photos from the flood:

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South Carolina floods, east coast rain
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After the flood, a rush to preserve drinking water
A resident looks down Mayfield St. as the Ashley river floodwaters rise in the Ashborough subdivision near Summerville, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Residents are concerned that the Ashley river will continue to rise as floodwaters come down from Columbia. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Rankin Craig watches as friends and family remove belongings from her flooded home in Forest Acres in Columbia, S.C., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. People in the city are beginning cleanup after being pummeled by a historic rainstorm. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
DNR officer Brett Irvin and Lexington Co. Deputy Dan Rusinyak carry June Loch to dry land after she was rescued from her home in the Pine Glen subdivision off of Tram road on Oct. 5, 2015 in the St. Andrews area of Columbia, S.C. Residents are having to abandon their homes because of flooding coinciding with release of water from the dam. (Tim Dominick/The State/TNS via Getty Images)
Roberta Albers walks around her home after the floodwaters start to recede at French Quarter Creek in Huger, S.C., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. French Quarter Creek is prone to flooding, but all residents who have lived there for several decades say this is the worst it has ever been. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Bill Cahill sprays off his pool deck as discarded furniture and insulation pile up in his yard after the floodwaters receded at French Quarter Creek in Huger, S.C., Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. French Quarter Creek is prone to flooding, but all residents who have lived there for several decades say this is the worst it has ever been. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Sean Nance walks through floodwaters carrying some work clothes as he evacuates from his apartment in the Ashborough subdivision near Summerville, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Residents are concerned that the Ashley River will continue to rise as floodwaters come down from Columbia. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Jeanni Adame rides in her boat as she checks on neighbors seeing if they want to evacuate in the Ashborough subdivision near Summerville, S.C., after many of their neighbors left, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. South Carolina is still struggling with flood waters due to a slow moving storm system. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Pedestrians walk down Dorchester Road at Sawmill Branch Canal as it begins to wash away due to floodwaters near Summerville, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Residents are concerned that the Ashley river will continue to rise as floodwaters come down from Columbia. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Floodwaters close in on homes on a small piece of land on Lake Katherine in Columbia, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. After a week of steady rain, the showers tapered off Monday and an inundated South Carolina turned to surveying a road system shredded by historic flooding. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Hunter Baker drives his boat down a flooded East Black Creek Road to his home following heavy rains in Florence, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Flooding continues throughout the state following record rainfall amounts over the last several days. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A man makes his way through floodwaters in the parking lot of The Citadel Beach Club on Isle of Palms, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. The Charleston and surrounding areas are still struggling with flood waters due to a slow moving storm system. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
EASTOVER, SC - OCTOBER 6: Trey McMillian looks over the damage done by flood waters on a road in Eastover on October 6, 2015 in Eastover, South Carolina. The state of South Carolina experienced record rainfall amounts over the weekend and continues to face resulting flooding. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Chris Rosselot, left, and Branch Tanksley, at right, both with the Charleston City Boat Yard, help Kerry Gonzalez evacuate from her home in the Ashborough subdivision near Summerville, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Residents are concerned that the Ashley river will continue to rise as floodwaters come down from Columbia. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Ethan Abbott pulls his boat down Mayfield St. to help a friend get personal items out of a flooded house in the Ashborough subdivision near Summerville, S.C., Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Residents are concerned that the Ashley river will continue to rise as floodwaters come down from Columbia. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Overall aerial view shows historic Charleston at the Battery with minor flooding still visible in Charleston, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. The Charleston and surrounding areas are still struggling with flood waters due to a slow moving storm system. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Hunter Baker surveys flood damage to his neighborhood near the flooded Black Creek following heavy rains in Florence, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Flooding continues throughout the state following record rainfall amounts over the last several days. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A kayaker makes her way through floodwaters on Sullivan's Island, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. The Charleston and surrounding areas are still struggling with floodwaters due to a slow moving storm system. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Pictured is the inside of the Pavlovich Balley School Building, home of the Columbia Classical Ballet, as electrical crews shut off power, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015 in Columbia, S.C. (Gerry Melendez/The State/TNS via Getty Images)
A dog is cut off from it's home because of floodwaters in Florence, S.C., Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Flooding continues throughout the state following record rainfall amounts over the last several days. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Rescue crews from across the country work to help those in need after rain and flood water ravaged the Columbia, S.C. area on Oct. 4, 2015. (Matt Walsh/The State/TNS via Getty Images)
A resident walks down a flooded Prince St. in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Much of South Carolina has experienced historic rain totals coupled with an unusually high lunar tide causing wide spread flooding. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
A woman walks down a flooded sidewalk toward an open convenience store in Charleston, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina and ordered federal aid to bolster state and local efforts as flood warnings remained in effect for many parts of the East Coast through Sunday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Neighbors watch employees with the city of Isle of Palms cut down a live oak tree that fell down on 23rd Avenue after heavy rains fell on Isle of Palms, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The South Carolina coast is getting hammered with heavy rains along with an unusual lunar high tide causing flooding all over the state. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
A man paddles a kayak down a flooded street in Columbia, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The rainstorm drenching the U.S. East Coast brought more misery Sunday to South Carolina, cutting power to thousands, forcing hundreds of water rescues and closing many roads because of floodwaters. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
David Linnen takes a yard rake to clear drains in front of Winyah Apartments in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Much of South Carolina has experienced historic rain totals coupled with an unusually high lunar tide causing wide spread flooding. The apartment complex has been evacuated. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
George Myers with the city of Isle of Palms directs equipment in on 23rd Ave. to clear the road after heavy rains fell on the Isle of Palms, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The South Carolina coast is getting hammered with historic rains along with an unusual lunar high tide causing flooding all over the state. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
George Myers with the city of Isle of Palms cuts down a tree on 23rd Ave. to clear the road after heavy rains fell on the Isle of Palms, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The South Carolina coast is getting hammered with historic rains along with an unusual lunar high tide causing flooding all over the state. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
A vehicle and a man try to navigate floodwaters in Florence, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, as heavy rain continues to cause widespread flooding in many areas of the state. The rainstorm drenching the East Coast brought more misery to South Carolina, cutting power to thousands, forcing hundreds of water rescues and closing scores of roads because of floodwaters. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Tripp Adams, 8, walks through the flood waters near high tide in the historic downtown in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Much of South Carolina has experienced historic rain totals coupled with an unusually high lunar tide causing wide spread flooding. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Jordan Bennett, of Rock Hill, S.C., paddles up to a flooded store in Columbia, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The rainstorm drenching the U.S. East Coast brought more misery Sunday to South Carolina, cutting power to thousands, forcing hundreds of water rescues and closing many roads because of floodwaters. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
David Linnen takes a yard rake to clear drains in front of Winyah Apartments in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Much of South Carolina has experienced historic rain totals coupled with an unusually high lunar tide causing wide spread flooding. The apartment complex has been evacuated. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
A man watches as a vehicle tries to navigate flood waters in Florence, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 as heavy rains continue to saturate the state, causing widespread flooding. The rainstorm drenching the East Coast brought more misery Sunday to South Carolina, cutting power to thousands, forcing hundreds of water rescues and closing scores of roads because of floodwaters. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Tameca Sheriff comforts her father, Napoleon Sheriff, as they wait out the flood waters in an American Red Cross Shelter in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Much of South Carolina has experienced historic rain totals coupled with an unusually high lunar tide causing wide spread flooding. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Members of Norfolk Fire-Rescue pull a man from his car stranded because of flooding in Norfolk, Va., on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Jason Hirschfeld)
Capers the dog walks by a fallen live oak tree on 23rd Ave. on the Isle of Palms after heavy rains fell on the Isle of Palms, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The South Carolina coast is getting hammered with historic rains along with an unusual lunar high tide causing flooding all over the state. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
A man walks his dog through flood waters during high tide on the Isle of Palms, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Rain pummeling parts of the East Coast showed little sign of slackening Saturday, with record-setting precipitation prolonging the soppy misery that has been eased only by news that powerful Hurricane Joaquin will not hit the U.S. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Will Cunningham, 14, rides his bike down Station 29 on Sullivan's Island, S.C., with his friend Patrick Kelly, 14, going the kayak route during flood waters on Sullivan's Island Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Rain pummeling parts of the East Coast showed little sign of slackening Saturday, with record-setting precipitation prolonging the soppy misery that has been eased only by news that powerful Hurricane Joaquin will not hit the U.S. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
An American Red Cross van is stranded in floodwaters on U.S. Hwy. 17 North near Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Several sections of Highway 17 are shut down between Charleston and Georgetown. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Paul Banker, left, paddles a kayak and his wife Wink Banker, right, takes photos on a flooded street in Charleston, S.C., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. A flash flood warning was in effect in parts of South Carolina, where authorities shut down the Charleston peninsula to motorists. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Firemen, from left to right, Norman Beauregard, Kevin Ettenger and Chris Rodgers with the Georgetown Fire Department, inspect the flood waters at high tide in the historic downtown in Georgetown, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Much of South Carolina has experienced historic rain totals coupled with an unusually high lunar tide causing wide spread flooding. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
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The system is running and it is running strong," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin told reporters.

Meanwhile, Gov. Nikki Haley issued a terse warning to thousands of people in low-lying areas near the coast to evacuate before a mass of water rumbling toward the ocean floods some places for up to two more weeks.

She asked people watching on television to call relatives who may have a false sense of security after surviving hurricanes, calling the second round of expected flooding "a different kind of bad." She said the standing water could last up to 12 days.

"We have thousands of people that won't move. And we need to get them to move," she said. "They don't need to be sitting in flooded areas for 12 days."

Back in Columbia, city officials urged residents to conserve water. And when they do use it, they have to boil it at least one minute. Restaurants are offering bottled water and serving meals on paper plates to avoid washing dishes. And many people often make daily trips to their local grocery stores to stock up on water.

"It's easy to conserve because you can't really use (the water)," said 26-year-old Laura Reinman, who was pushing a shopping cart with two gallon jugs of water at a Publix grocery store just across the street from the canal.

The city is like hundreds of others along the East Coast and in the Midwest that have been told to fix their aging infrastructure.

Columbia is under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix its sewage treatment plant and sewer pipes to reduce overflows that can contaminate waterways. Those orders include spending $1 million on projects to reduce flooding along Gills Creek, one of the areas devastated by record rainfall and flooding.

And just last month, the state Supreme Court revived a lawsuit challenging how the city has paid for maintenance to its water and sewer systems, saying "simply put, the statutes do not allow these revenues to be treated as a slush fund."

Columbia separates its property tax collections, which are only imposed on city residents, from its water fees, which are paid by its customers who live throughout the region. In 1993, the city passed a resolution allowing it to pull money from the water fund to help balance the city's budget. According to the lawsuit, in the past three years, $12 million has been transferred form utility customers to pay for non-utility projects, such as economic development and efforts to lure businesses to the city.

Benjamin said the city has reduced the transfer over the past several years. This year, it was $2.8 million to help pay for police, fire and 911 services.

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