An official swim advisory was issued Sunday, after water quality tests from portions of the Saluda River, near Saluda Shoals Park, showed high levels of bacteria, the Congaree Riverkeeper said Sunday.
The state standard for bacteria is 349, and the sample taken from the river Saturday registered 980.4, Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said. Such levels could make swimmers ill.
A wastewater discharge from the Friarsgate Wastewater Treatment facility late last week resulted in the increased bacteria level in the water, the riverkeeper said. State health officials had issued a caution to swimmers earlier in the weekend before a formal advisory was issued Sunday with results of water quality tests.
Swimming is not advised until bacteria levels return to normal, according to a statement from DHEC, adding temporary advisory signs will be placed in the area found to have high levels of bacteria in the water.
This is at least the second time in little more than a year that the Friarsgate plant has sent poorly treated sewage into the river and prompted concerns about swimming at the popular waterfront park that draws more than 600,000 visitors annually. In June 2016, state regulators found elevated pollution levels at the plant that they said contaminated the Saluda River with enough bacteria to make swimming unsafe.
DHEC said the wastewater plant is currently operating in normal mode.
Carolina Water Service operates the plant that services about 3,000 connections in the Irmo/Ballentine area of Lexington County. It has an allowable, continuous daily discharge of fully treated water into the river.
But one of last week’s daily samples returned a higher than allowed fecal count, according to Carolina Water Service, which said it diverted flow to a holding tank and notified DHEC.
Company officials say they are trying to calculate how much of the poorly treated wastewater was discharged into the river.
Stangler said discharges with high-bacteria levels are a “public health risk.”
“People can get sick, especially those with open wounds. They can get rashes, infections and have gastrointestinal issues,” Stangler said. “We want to make sure people are informed and for river users to make an informed decision.”
Stangler said riverkeepers had a meeting scheduled for this week on how to deal with this type of scenario, including whether recreational uses should be stopped temporarily, even before test results are returned.
“There could be changes,” Stangler said.
Official state swimming advisories also are in place closer to downtown Columbia at the Cayce Riverwalk and Granby Park, where DHEC warns that swimming in those areas could make you sick.
The Friarsgate plant releases wastewater in the river at Saluda Shoals Park. A pipe comes out near a boat landing, and treated wastewater can sometimes be seen bubbling up in the water.
The lower Saluda is considered Columbia’s signature recreational river. It has an unusual combination of features that make it unique. The river’s banks are lined with Spanish moss, like that found in the Lowcountry, but its waters are so cold they support a trout fishery, which is more common in the mountains. The river also has a challenging set of whitewater rapids near Riverbanks Zoo.
Regional planners have been pushing for more than a quarter century to eliminate all sewage discharges to protect water quality in the lower Saluda, but many discharges remain.
Staff writers Teddy Kulmala and Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report.
Swimming Advisory Issued for the Saluda River
A section of the Saluda River at Saluda Shoals Park in Columbia has been placed under a swimming advisory, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.
The affected area includes the section of the river that runs the length of Saluda Shoals Park. Higher than normal bacteria levels have been detected in this section of the river, and swimming is not advised until bacteria levels return to normal.
Recreational activities that involve submersion in the river where there is a possibility of swallowing water should be avoided. People with open cuts or wounds should also avoid contact with the water.
Temporary advisory signs will be placed in the area found to have high levels of bacteria in the water. DHEC is monitoring the situation. A news release will be issued and the signs removed once the area is safe for swimming.
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control