Investing in waste treatment systems could eliminate spills

November 30, 2009 

When families think of their local river, they imagine fun days filled with swimming, fishing and boating. What they don't think about is undertreated sewage and bacteria that threaten our clean water supply, public health and safety.

Every year, leaky pipes and aging sewage systems dump 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage into our nation's waterways. South Carolina is no exception. Aging systems are frequently overwhelmed and dump undertreated waste into the state's streams, rivers and coastal waters. The recent sewage spills in Columbia are a prime example. Across the country, sewage spills like this result in millions of illnesses and lost revenue from swimming advisories, beach closures and missed work days every year.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control did a good job publicizing the recent Columbia area sewage spills in a timely fashion. This is a great improvement from the recent past.

Unfortunately, good public notification is the exception rather than the rule. Most South Carolinians are kept in the dark about sewage spills and are left to guess whether their local waterways are safe. This illustrates the importance of passing legislation, currently being considered, that will require utilities in South Carolina to notify the public within 12 hours of a sewage spill.

The best way to ensure the public health and safety of our communities when a spill does occur is by better publicizing spills and raising the profile of failing sewage treatment systems. Better information and raised awareness also will help to build support for the funding needed for long-term solutions.

Acknowledging that these sewage spills are not isolated problems but rather symptomatic of our failing, aging waste treatment systems will protect our communities into the future by encouraging investment in repairs to stop sewage overflows at the source, keeping our rivers and communities clear of the threats from waste pollution.

The Legislature can protect our communities by passing sewage spill notification legislation, investing in our aging sewage treatment systems and supporting legislation that would require utilities that have repetitive sewage spills to complete a comprehensive review of the problem and implement solutions.

We must seize these legislative opportunities to ensure that all citizens have the information they need to stay healthy and safely enjoy our streams, rivers and beaches that are so critical to South Carolina's economy and quality of life.


Southeast Regional director

American Rivers


Legislative director

S.C. Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club


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