One-of-a-kind IP Canal born of drought

Water pumped from the Pee Dee River enters the Georgetown Canal as it flows over 20 miles to the Georgetown water treatment plant.

GEORGETOWN — To see just how strange the IP Canal is, slog through the muddy cypress bottoms to Carver's Bay. The water is carried right over top of the creek there.

In a concrete flume.

"It looks like an old horse trough," said Frances Macy, superintendent of Georgetown Water and Sewage Treatment Department.

The quirky canal that feeds Georgetown water is a zig-zagging, 27-mile-long oddity born of drought and a freak of topography. It has two flumes and two sets of pumps — the first to lift water from the Pee Dee River, the second to lift it back up after the canal tunnels under the Black River.

It courses through tangles of wetlands so matter-of-factly that for awhile after it was completed, people took to riding pick-up trucks down the road alongside it, towing water skiers or shooting doves as they went, said John Evans, a retired employee of International Paper, the company that built the canal.

It was the inspiration of a civil engineer who came across a squiggling contour line on a topographical map, a ridge that gradually descended all the way from the river to the International Paper mill, a gravity feed for freshwater the mill needed in the extreme drought of the early 1950s.

"We got saltwater in the mill, and we were having to barge water from the Pee Dee," said Quinn Rosenblath, who was an assistant plant engineer at the time.

"We had a lot of rain, a lot of mud, a lot of bays. We were slugging through the mud to get the ditch dug. There were no real roads to cross. There's continual maintenance, washouts, animal damage," he said. "It was a monumental project to get done, a crowning moment of my career. It was an undertaking that could never be done today. You'd never get the permits."

Today, that ditch supplies 3 million to 4 million gallons per day to the city and 25 million to 30 million gallons per day to the mill. Rosenblath, who retired to Alabama, will Google satellite images of it every now and then just to get another look.

"Shows up like a sore thumb."