About a year ago, I came to learn that an agreement was in place to increase wastewater discharge into the headwaters of the North Edisto River by one million gallons per day. The agreement between the Town of Batesburg-Leesville and Saluda County Water & Sewer Authority states that Saluda County would construct a pump station and sewer lines that would send one million gallons per day of sewage to be treated at the Batesburg-Leesville wastewater treatment plant.
There are several issues with this agreement.
One of the biggest problems with this current agreement is that the point of discharge for the Batesburg-Leesville wastewater treatment plant is Duncan Creek, which then flows into Chinquapin Creek and the North Edisto River. These creeks are the headwaters of the Edisto River, the longest free-flowing (not dammed) blackwater river in the world. The flow of water coming from those headwaters would have a much higher concentration of treated wastewater than would occur naturally, which means the quality of these bodies of water would be severely degraded.
This agreement becomes more problematic when viewed through the lens of the 1972 Clean Water Act and the mission of South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control as the governing body tasked with upholding that act. SC DHEC upholds the Clean Water Act through South Carolina's Water Quality Standards. One of the components of the water quality standards states that, "Existing water uses and the level of water quality necessary to protect these existing uses shall be maintained and protected regardless of the water classification and consistent with the policies below." The addition of one million gallons per day of treated wastewater would significantly diminish the quality of the North Edisto River and its tributaries.
During the rainy season, the Batesburg-Leesville wastewater treatment plant has processed 1.82 million gallons per day of wastewater and adding an additional 1 million gallons a day would mean exceeding the SC DHEC permitted levels of 2.5 million gallons per day for the Batesburg-Leesville wastewater treatment plant. It would also mean that inadequately treated sewage would be discharged into the Edisto River, leading to severe bacterial violations. Even without a spill from the wastewater treatment plant, the additional one million gallons per day would mean the formerly pristine water would resemble treated sewage for greater distances on the river during longer periods of time, especially during low river flows due to low rainfall. While the 1.82 million gallons per day represents a high point of treated effluent, it illustrates that the town leadership has not taken into consideration any leeway or planning for a worst-case scenario. It also shows that the agreement has a complete lack of concern for the water quality standards of antidegradation and for the Edisto River in particular. The danger to water quality is even more pronounced because the town's wastewater treatment plant was built in the 1970s, and it has not received improvements since the 1990s—the chance of spills is too big to ignore. You can see how other waste treatment facilities have fared by looking at DHEC’s wastewater spill webpage (http://www.scdhec.gov/environment/water/sso-psf_display.aspx)
The agreement would affect more than just the quality of the Edisto River; it would affect all the communities and people who rely on river. If you were to follow Duncan Creek into Chinquapin Creek, you would run into the North Edisto River. Farther down the Edisto, you would pass towns like Wagener, North, Orangeburg, Branchville and eventually wind through the ACE Basin before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. The effects of a polluted Edisto River would affect each of these communities, as many of them depend on a healthy Edisto as a source for drinking water. On a given day, one can find fishermen and paddling enthusiasts alike enjoying one of the great resources of our state. SC DHEC has recognized the North Edisto River for possible protection as an "Outstanding Resource Waters (ORW)," due to the general pristine quality of that section of the river. All these people, from the citizens that draw water from the Edisto to sportsmen and paddlers, would be affected by the increased discharge. I think we all want and deserve healthy tributaries of the Edisto and a healthy Edisto River.
On December 3, 2011, the Executive Committee of the South Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club passed a resolution opposing the agreement between Batesburg-Leesville and Saluda County Water and Sewer Authority. Since that time, other statewide organizations have also passed resolutions opposing this agreement: Friends of the Edisto, Audubon, American Canoe Association and South Carolina Nature-based Tourism. For more information, follow this link: http://www.box.com/edisto-river.
Join us in opposing the agreement by emailing, calling or writing letters to the individuals listed in the contact sheet located in the above link.