A sewer system pounded by Sunday night’s heavy rain spilled some 27,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into a tributary of the lower Saluda River, marking at least the second sizable spill at the Lexington County plant this month.
Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said the contamination likely was dissipating, but the spill at the Alpine Utilities plant is worth noting.
The failure of a bar screen led to Sunday night’s spill, as well as one Nov. 10, utility managers said.
Ni America, the parent company of the plant’s owner, says it figured out the problem this week and has taken action to make sure a similar problem doesn’t occur again.
The company blamed the spill to Stoops Creek on a switch that caused the treatment process not to run properly. A replacement switch has been installed, as well as signals to alert utility managers of any future problem, company spokesman Rick Melcher said.
Ni America’s Palmetto Wastewater Reclamation subsidiary purchased the Palmetto Utilities plant in 2011 after a series of sewage leaks, including a 1 million gallon spill in 2008 that fouled the Saluda River.
Since the acquisition, Ni has spent about $10 million upgrading the 1970s-era sewer plant and the collection system, Melcher said.
Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said the sewage plant had an email problem that caused a delay in its “normal” public notice efforts, but the agency offered no details.
The utility learned of the problem after a customer who lives near the wastewater plant called about 8:15 p.m. Sunday to complain that sewage was backing up into toilets, according to a news release by Palmetto Wastewater Reclamation.
“They said the toilets were bubbling,’’ said Palmetto Wastewater’s Craig Sherwood. “It’s good that people do call us. It does give us notice.’’
Utility personnel arrived at the site about 9 p.m. and also discovered overflowing sewage from a manhole in a wooded area near Bush River Road, the news release said. The sewage was flowing into Stoops Creek, a tributary of the lower Saluda. The news release said pollution was cleaned up and the problem corrected within 90 minutes.