Tega Cay Water Service says spills may continue while system is fixed

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 23, 2014 

Officials with the Tega Cay Water Service say there’s still a “risk” of sewage overflows until the company makes necessary system repairs.

The company’s comment comes on the heels of last week’s notice of violation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Federal officials say Tega Cay Water Service is in violation of the federal Clean Water Act because of repeated sewage spills in Tega Cay. The EPA noted “at least” 27 wastewater spills between Jan. 1, 2013, and Jan. 2, 2014, that caused 446,350 gallons of untreated sewage to be discharged into the lake.

The regional vice president for Tega Cay Water Service’s parent company, Utilities Inc., declined an interview with The Herald on Friday. Instead, Rick Durham, the regional vice president, submitted an email response to the EPA’s violation notice.

The EPA’s notice “acknowledges and supports our consent order and reinforces the mutual efforts of DHEC and Tega Cay Water Service Inc. to stop the occurrence of overflows at Tega Cay,” Durham wrote.

On Feb. 3, Tega Cay Water Service signed a consent order with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, pledging to find a temporary solution to sewage spills within 30 days. The DHEC order also includes a $136,000 fine that cannot be passed on to the utility company’s 2,000 customers in Tega Cay.

DHEC’s order also requires the company to conduct within the next two years a complete rehabilitation of its utility system.

On Friday, Durham’s statement said the company is “continuing with the improvements we started several years ago.”

Tega Cay Water Service has proposed upgrades to its wastewater treatment plants, Durham said, and “we will be adding further protection to the lake during the lengthy rehabilitation work on the collection system to reduce the incidence of overflows we have been experiencing.”

Durham’s email to The Herald did not address the EPA’s findings from a December 2013 site visit, which led to the violation notice against the company. Agency officials participated in the Dec. 3 joint inspection with DHEC officials in Tega Cay.

In a report on the inspection, EPA officials say they found “deficiencies” in Tega Cay Water Service’s management of infiltration and inflow of its sewage system. Those “inadequacies” have caused sewage system overflows, EPA officials wrote in the report dated Dec. 9.

Officials found Tega Cay Water Service’s pump stations to be “generally clean” and “well maintained,” the report states. However, at the time of the report, officials noted that the utility company had no back-up power at its pump stations.

Yet, “all pump stations have connections for easy hook-up of portable generators,” according to the EPA’s report.

EPA officials also found an “almost clogged” sewer manhole upstream from a pump station. The manhole also “showed signs of surcharging” and had visible roots and debris, the report states.

The fact that sewage spills “persist” indicates “that Tega Cay does not have as detailed an understanding of the existing (infiltration and inflow) issues in the (system) as they previously thought,” EPA officials wrote.

Still, the report notes that the utility company has “several preventative maintenance procedures ... that are in line with best management practices to operate and maintain the system.”

Officials suggested in the report that Tega Cay Water Service formalize its preventative maintenance programs by developing written procedures.

Much of the EPA’s recommendations in the report center around developing written procedures and documentation of proper management to prevent sewage spills.

Officials noted that “relatively small preventative maintenance expenses now can save Tega Cay Water Service larger repair expenses in the future.” And, EPA officials say the utility company needs a “sewer overflow response plan” to address notification and cleanup of any future spills.

The EPA has received “several complaints” from residents served by the Tega Cay Water Service, according to its December report. Last week, some affected residents said they were encouraged by the EPA’s violation notice and DHEC’s recent consent order.

The cry for action and help from many in the Tega Cay community caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s local office. Earlier this month, Graham sent a letter to the EPA on behalf of Tega Cay residents.

The sewage spill issue is a “regulatory” matter, not a legislative issue, but Graham is taking the complaints of Tega Cay residents seriously, said Kevin Bishop, spokesman for the senator.

The city of Tega Cay is still doing its “due diligence” and engineers are compiling a “forensic accounting” since receiving Tega Cay Water Service’s offer earlier this month to sell its sewage system to the city for $7.86 million, Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard said on Friday.

He was surprised, he said, that the company publicly released its asking price for the system. He and others are still applying “pressure” to the company to fix the sewage spill issue.

Unfortunately, he said, there still appears to be general confusion that Tega Cay Water Service is a company and not a city utility. The city’s utility service is called the Tega Cay Utility Department.

Reporter John Marks of the Fort Mill Times and Lake Wylie Pilot contributed

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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