Residents who live in the Whitewater Lake Watershed in upstate South Carolina are now protected from dangerous flood waters after heavy rain events, thanks to the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program.
Administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), EWP provides up to 75 percent of the funds needed to repair damage and restore the functions of a watershed. A watershed is the land that drains into a body of water such as a stream, lake or wetland, but it is more than just land. It also includes the homes, businesses, natural resources and people that live in the area, and the residents of this watershed are proud of the place they call home.
In October of 2009, a fierce storm produced intense rainfall that eroded a spillway and nearly flooded an adjacent home. Because the safety and stability of the Whitewater Lake dam were jeopardized when the spillway failed, lives and property were also at risk.
In addition, flood waters closed twenty-five roads in the county, including a major bridge that connects the Whitewater Lake Community to the town’s main road, creating serious inconveniences for residents and negatively impacting the local economy. The bridge also provides a route for emergency services, and its closing meant that emergency vehicles had to take an alternative path to reach the community, adding at least 15 minutes to response time.
The storm and the resulting damage prompted the residents of this small, close-knit town to seek assistance from local, county and federal sources to construct a new, reinforced spillway, protected from erosion, which can withstand heavy rainfall events.
With technical and financial assistance made available through the EWP program, this community’s denizens worked with the required local sponsor—in this case Oconee County—to secure the remaining 25 percent of the total project costs.
The spillway cost $388,000, and of that amount, NRCS contributed over $291,000, while the county and the Whitewater Lake Community homeowner’s association together contributed over $97,000. The active involvement of the homeowner’s association ensured that the project met the needs of the community.
Soon after construction on the dam began, another major rain event dumped 14 inches of rain. Luckily, the construction work proved its worth, and the residents were spared from any flooding or erosion. Thanks to NRCS’ EWP program, Whitewater Lake residents and sponsors were able to protect lives and property, and prevent further erosion in the spillway.
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