Opposition to sewage pollution in Lower Saluda growing

Carolina Water Service’s sewage discharge into the Lower Saluda near the I-20 bridge is the source of ongoing public concern and legal action. (© Congaree Riverkeeper)

As public outcry grows over the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) proposal to reissue a sewage discharge permit to repeat violator Carolina Water Service (CWS), SELC continues its court battle to get the illegal sewage discharge from the I-20 plant out of the treasured Lower Saluda River.

The ongoing lawsuit was filed on behalf of Congaree Riverkeeper against CWS to enforce the terms of its existing permit, which requires the company to comply with certain pollution limits and, as of 1999, cease its discharge to the Lower Saluda entirely. The permit requires CWS to cease its discharge by connecting to the Town of Lexington’s regional sewer system and sending its sewage wastewater to a modern regional plant for treatment. However, well over a decade after CWS was required to connect to the existing regional sewer system, it continues to release foaming wastewater into the river. In addition to its failure to connect, CWS has exceeded its permit limits, including those for fecal coliform bacteria and biochemical oxygen demand, at least 24 times in the past 5 years alone.

DHEC is now proposing to reissue CWS’s discharge permit, and the public comment process for the new draft permit is underway. At a hearing last week and a news conference yesterday, a diverse group of South Carolinians – from paddlers to local residents to politicians – urged DHEC to deny the permit based on CWS’s years of ongoing, unlawful sewage discharges from the I-20 plant. Today SELC, on behalf of Congaree Riverkeeper, filed comments continuing to urge DHEC not to reissue the permit. In its comments, SELC explained that because CWS is under a current obligation to connect the I-20 plant to the regional system, it is not eligible for a permit reissuance, and further, the proposed permit as currently drafted would violate the federal Clean Water Act.

Pollution from CWS’s I-20 plant is particularly worrisome because of the unique characteristics of the Lower Saluda. Its cold waters sustain a trout fishery in a region usually too warm for the species and offer whitewater rapids popular with paddlers of all levels. It has also been designated a state scenic river.

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