Court rules Saluda River pollution unlawful

South Carolina's Saluda River. (© William Graf)

A federal court has ruled that the embattled Carolina Water Service I-20 sewage plant is discharging pollution into the Saluda River illegally, and a judge has fined the utility $1.5 million for failing to connect to a municipal sewage system.

The judge added $23,000 in additional fines for the private utility’s discharges into the Saluda River that exceeded pollution limits. The ruling also states Carolina Water Service (CWS) will be permanently prohibited from any discharges into the river, and must connect to a regional wastewater treatment plant within one year.

“This is a great day for the Saluda River, and it is the outcome we were fighting for,” said Catherine Wannamaker, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney in the Charleston office. “Carolina Water Service has repeatedly ignored its obligation to connect to a municipal sewage system, and has repeatedly fouled the Saluda River with improperly treated sewage. This is a victory for everyone who uses that river, and for everyone who stood up to CWS to force them to stop these unlawful discharges, even when state authorities initially would not.”

The case began in January 2015, when the Congaree Riverkeeper represented by SELC filed a citizen enforcement suit alleging that the CWS I-20 plant is violating its federal permit by continuing to pollute in the Saluda River.

CWS was required to stop discharging in 1999, when a nearby connection line was built to take the I-20 system’s waste to a larger, high-tech regional treatment facility. CWS claimed that the permit allowed it to continue releasing treated sewage.

The federal court found that the requirement to connect to the regional collection system was clear and that CWS’s failure to connect violated federal law. For more than 15 years, CWS has been allowed to discharge sewage into the Saluda River from a plant near I-20. But often that pollution has not been properly treated and discharges containing too much bacteria and not enough oxygen have entered the river.  While state and local agencies have tried for years to get CWS to tie into the regional collection system, none of them succeeded. Then the Riverkeeper stepped in and sued to enforce the law.

“People in the Midlands value the Saluda River too much for it to be used as a dumping ground for poorly treated sewage,” Blan Holman, another SELC who represented the Congaree Riverkeeper. “Getting this pollution out of the river recognizes that our local rivers are a huge natural asset and the centerpiece of outdoor recreation for our region.  We’ve got to keep them clean.”

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