Carolina Water takes heat for pollution discharges

The lower Saluda River in early morning light
The lower Saluda River in early morning light tdominick@thestate.com

The town of Lexington ripped Carolina Water Service in federal court Monday over what municipal attorneys said is the utility’s failure to stop pollution discharges that have fouled the Saluda River.

At a hearing in Columbia before U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour, a Lexington attorney said the town has tried to work out a deal with the private utility to route sewage to a regional treatment plant that discharges to the Congaree River.

But Carolina Water has been uncooperative, hurting water quality in the lower Saluda River, lawyer J. David Black said. The lower Saluda is a state- designated scenic river.

“They have been polluting our river for long enough,’’ Black said.

Carolina Water attorney Randy Lowell said his clients are willing to work out a deal, but he accused the town of failing to negotiate.

“CWS is willing to interconnect; the town refuses,’’ Lowell said.

In dispute is how – and when – Carolina Water Service will stop discharging to the lower Saluda from a treatment plant at I-20. Neither the town nor the utility has been able to work out an agreement to connect the facility’s service area to the regional treatment system.

Until the impasse is broken, the company will continue to release wastewater into the lower Saluda. Some discharges from the I-20 plant have exceeded legal limits, according to a local riverkeeper organization.

The lower Saluda is considered the area’s signature recreational river because it has an unusual array of features for a central South Carolina waterway, including a coldwater trout fishery and whitewater rapids.

The dispute over the I-20 plant has been highlighted in two federal lawsuits, one by a riverkeeper group against Carolina Water and the other by Carolina Water against the town. Seymour held a hearing to discuss the case brought by Carolina Water, but did not rule.

Lowell said that the town refused to make an offer for the company’s I-20 plant despite public statements in support of taking control of the system. Lexington is trying to drive down the price tag, he said. The price was estimated at one point at $13.5 million.

Black said the town hasn’t been able to make an offer for the I-20 plant because Carolina Water won’t allow it to inspect the facility to verify a fair price.

Last week, state regulators said the company had released poorly treated sewage from a treatment plant it operates at Friarsgate in Irmo.

The discharges fouled the Saluda River at the popular Saluda Shoals Park, prompting advisories against swimming. Carolina Water Service apologized and said it was fixing equipment at its treatment plant.

Sammy Fretwell: 803-771-8837, @sfretwell83