The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has denied renewal of a permit that would have allowed Carolina Water Service’s Interstate 20 wastewater treatment plant in Lexington County to keep discharging into the Saluda River.
CWS and the Town of Lexington have 12 months to shut down the facility, eliminate wastewater discharge into the Saluda River and connect the I-20 plant to Lexington’s sewer system. The parties have 60 days to submit a detailed plan to DHEC.
The plant, located off Leaphart Road in Lexington County, serves 2,000 customers.
“After several months of trying to get both parties to reach a solution, we have been left with no other option but to move forward with these orders,” DHEC director Catherine Heigel said in a release. “In the interest of public health, we continue to urge both the Town of Lexington and CWS to work together quickly to complete the transfer of the I-20 plant to the town in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act.”
Failure to comply with the provisions could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day.
In an official statement, Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall commended DHEC’s decision, saying, “It has long been the position of the town that the elimination of discharges from CWS’s I-20 facility and from its Lake Murray Watergate facility is imperative to the safety of the waters of South Carolina and the quality of life of our citizens, customers and neighbors to eliminate unnecessary pollution.”
CWS president Rick Durham said in a statement that the privately owned utility is ready and willing to connect to the Lexington system.
"We have repeatedly stated our desire to remove our discharge from the Saluda through an interconnection with the town," Durham said. "This is well-documented over the last 30 years."
However, CWS said it would appeal the denial and the administrative order, "given that they are based on an incomplete factual record and incorrect legal analysis," according to a release, which noted that CWS has "no ability to unilaterally make an interconnection occur. Whether these facilities will actually be interconnected is a matter almost exclusively in the hands of the town."
The release also said that CWS requested that Lexington allow a connection in March 2014, which the town refused in May of that year.
"It is now up to the town to decide whether it will allow an interconnection or initiate a condemnation," Durham said. "CWS will be moving forward with its efforts to obtain the construction authorization from DHEC for these interconnection facilities and will commence construction after that permit is issued.”
Durham added: “We’re happy that we now have a clear direction on this matter. Thanks to DHEC’s action, CWS is one step closer to making this connection happen and urges those who wish to see this discharge eliminated to use their offices to encourage the town to act accordingly.”
Durham also sent a letter to Lexington Town Administrator Britt Poole requesting information about the ordered interconnection, including the location on the town's regional wastewater collection line where Lexington would like CWS to make the connection.
The original National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, issued in 1994, stated that the plant was a temporary treatment facility and required to be connected to a regional sewer system when such a system became operational. The permit became effective on Jan. 1, 1995, and expired on Sept. 30, 1999. CWS applied for its renewal prior to the expiration.
After the permit was issued in 1995, DHEC informed CWS that Lexington’s sewer system, designated the regional sewer system pursuant to the Federal Clean Water Act, was operational.
DHEC, which has previously issued a permit to construct the connection, held a public hearing on Aug. 25, 2015, concerning the permit renewal, and received 287 public comments opposed to the renewal.
DHEC denied the permit renewal on Monday.
“We remain committed to protecting the health of the public and the environment and will monitor the transition process to ensure that affected customers have uninterrupted wastewater treatment service,” Heigel said.