Press Release | April 15, 2014

Groups Seek Prevention of More Burlington Sewage Spills into Haw River

Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center


For Immediate Release: April 15, 2014


Contact:  Kathleen Sullivan, 919-945-7106 or [email protected]

                 Elaine Chiosso, Haw Riverkeeper, Haw River Assembly, (919) 542-5790

                 Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper, Cape Fear River Watch, (910) 762-5606



Groups Seek Prevention of More Burlington Sewage Spills into Haw River


CHAPEL HILL, N.C –  The Southern Environmental Law Center today notified the City of Burlington that it intends to file a lawsuit, on behalf of the Haw River Assembly and the Cape Fear River Watch, if the city does not act within 60 days to prevent additional raw sewage from spilling out of the city’s sewers into the Haw River and local streams.  Below the discharge points, the Haw River flows downstream into Jordan Lake, a source of drinking water for North Carolinians in the Triangle area, and eventually into the Cape Fear River.


“Since the state isn’t protecting the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the Haw River, Jordan Lake, and the Cape Fear River for clean drinking water, we’ll take legal action unless Burlington acts to limit the risk posed by its repeated untreated sewage spills,” said Julie Youngman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the citizen groups.


In January 2014, 3.5 million gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from Burlington’s wastewater collection system directly into the Haw River.  A total of twenty spills discharged an additional 239,351 gallons of raw sewage into the Haw River and its tributaries in 2013.  Of those 20 documented spills in 2013, only two resulted in the state assessing civil penalties. 


“The Burlington system is one of the worst of the worst” notes Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper. “On average, over the last six years, they have discharged raw sewage into the river more than once a month.”


Untreated sewage carries disease-causing bacteria, threatens wildlife, contributes to harmful algal blooms, and detracts from uses of affected waters such as recreation and drinking water supply.  “Protecting their residents' public health should be a top priority for the city,” says Elaine Chiosso, Haw Riverkeeper.


The Riverkeeper groups seek a legally binding commitment and plan by Burlington to protect the waters of the Haw River and the people downstream from additional spills of raw sewage.




About  the Southern Environmental Law Center: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of almost 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. WEB:


About the Cape Fear River Watch: Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 by a group of local citizens concerned about the future of our River and our Region.  This small grassroots beginning was dedicated to improving and preserving the health, beauty, cleanliness, and heritage of the Cape Fear River basin. The organization aims to protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy, and action.  WEB:


About the Haw River Assembly: Haw River Assembly is a nonprofit organization founded in 1982 to promote environmental education, conservation and pollution prevention; to speak as a voice for the river in the public arena; and to put into peoples’ hands the tools and the knowledge they need to be effective guardians of the river.  WEB:

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]