Officials: Sewage leak into Lake Wylie was 6 separate spills

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comDecember 26, 2013 

— Tega Cay Water Service now says there were six wastewater spills on Dec. 23, a an estimated 178,000 total gallons poured into Lake Wylie.

The incidents began at 1 a.m. at three wastewater facilities and two manholes, according to a public notice from the company. Two wastewater treatment plants weren’t contained until 8 p.m. and spilled an estimated 85,000 gallons each. A lift station on Point Clear Drive added another 5,000 gallons. That one wasn’t contained until 4:30 p.m.

All three manhole overflows ran from 1 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. One at 1007 Palmyra Drive spilled an estimated 2,000 gallons. One at 2141 Manawa Lane added 1,000 gallons and another at 2095 Diamond Head Circle released less than 50 gallons.

The overflows reached Lake Wylie, some sitting within clear site of coves. Sites were cleaned and lime applied. The public notice and an automated phone message asked residents to “please avoid contact with the lake until further notice.”

Residents expressed frustration as the spills continued on or near their properties. Past overflows at the Point Clear lift station prompted several nearby residents to form the Tega Cay Water Citizen Advisory Council. That group collects wastewater problem reports from customers of Tega Cay Water Service and uses the data to oppose rate increases and even the company’s operation in the city.

One member, Joyce Clark, said Monday morning the ongoing spill was a significant one.

“It’s bigger than the one this summer,” she said, referencing a rash of spills earlier in 2013.

Just before noon Monday, parent company Utilities, Inc. sent an email stating a “no swim” advisory is in effect for the area. The message stated both the city and state had been identified of the situation. No estimate on the size of the spill was given. The overflow is a result of “significant, heavy rainfall in the area,” according to the email.

Resident Tom Eisele lives right in front of the lift station. He said repair crews were informed about 4 a.m. and showed up two hours later. At 10:30 a.m., Eisele still hadn’t see anyone from the utility itself.

“There’s no telling how long it’s been going on,” he said.

A little past 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 23, Tom Oakley with Utilities, Inc. said the overflows hadn’t yet been stopped, but that drier weather in the afternoon or evening “will enable us to take additional action.” The company sent out multiple calls warning residents not to use go near the water. Because drinking water is purchased from Rock Hill via York County, Oakley said residents shouldn’t worry about it being contaminated.

“Since they are a professional water treatment operation, we are confident that they are doing what is necessary, as always, to insure the safety of the water supply and would recommend that questions regarding water quality be addressed to them,” Oakley said.

Eisele is concerned about the environmental impact of the spill and previous ones, but also worries about a negative impact on property values. He said new pipes were put in for his and neighboring homes following past problems, but that large trucks coming in to pump out spills tear up the driveway and could harm the new pipes.

Spills in Tega Cay have been a concern to residents for years, but a spike in heavy rain and overflows during the spring and summer stirred protests and calls for action. Candidates for elected office in the city this past fall were confronted with questions about Tega Cay Water Service. Tega Cay City Council had its staff investigate options for improving service and met with residents, despite not owning the system.

In February, the utility received a 33 percent rate increase based largely on the need for improved infrastructure. The case included almost 700 protesting comments, including those of the city.

Linda Stevenson, a main organizer with the citizen advisory group, emailed around noon Monday upon hearing of the spill. She was out of town when it occurred. Stevenson expressed frustration and wondered why the city-owned Tega Cay Utility Department isn’t seeing the same problems as the privately owned Tega Cay Water Service.

“Although the company states this is due to large rainfall, I don't believe them because every sewage would be overflowing where there's a large rainfall occurring,” she wrote. “I don't think the other sewage company in Tega Cay is experiencing any problems.”

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