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Wastewater discharge into river gets permit

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State regulators will allow treated wastewater from DeBordieu to be discharged into the Waccamaw River at Winyah Bay, but only as a last resort.

The community has its own sewage treatment plant, and treated wastewater is currently sprayed over the golf course. But DeBordieu residents say the spray disposal impacts play on the course, creates odors and could lead to effluent running into the North Inlet estuary.

Georgetown County Water and Sewer District, which runs the plant, applied to the state last year for permission to discharge up to 500,000 gallons a day of treated waste into the river. DeBordieu property owners paid for the cost of the engineering work, and will pay the estimated $1.4 million cost of the project.

The proposed permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control would allow up to 500,000 gallons a day to be discharged from March through October, but only if DeBordieu’s 3.5-million gallon storage lagoon is full and if it does not water the golf course from any other source.

From November through February, the discharge to the river can be up to 375,000 gallons a day under the same conditions, according to Mike Montebello, manager of the agency’s Domestic Wastewater Permitting Section.

“We think it’s a very flexible permit,” said Aaron Bodiford, special projects engineer for the water and sewer district. The average flow from the treatment plant is far less than what the permit allows, he said.

The alternate discharge has the support of the Baruch Marine Institute, part of the University of South Carolina. The institute has a lab at Hobcaw Barony that conducts long-term research in North Inlet, part of the National Esturarine Research Reserve System.

“We think it’s a good idea,” said Dennis Allen, director of the marine lab. “There’s no question that that landscape doesn’t have the capacity to assimilate all the wastewater that plant produces.”

The current land application permit allows up to 2 inches of treated waste to be sprayed on the course each week. But an engineering study found the water table is too close to support that volume, which equals 7,758 gallons a day per acre.

The engineers asked DHEC to limit the land application to an inch a week from May to October, when golf course grass is growing, and half an inch per week when the grass is dormant.

The engineers, AECOM of Florence, also estimated there are 200 days a year when rain would make the course too saturated to accept treated wastewater.

DHEC agreed to a half-inch per week rate in the winter, but said the 2-inch summer rate “was considered acceptable.”

The idea that there would be 200 days a year when no waste is sprayed on the course “does not agree with our proposal for a ‘limited’ transfer of effluent” to the river, Montebello wrote in a letter to the utility.

The permit conditions and monitoring requirements “are included to provide the required maximization of the use of the existing and approved land application site,” he wrote.

But he added that there is no limit on the number of days the treated waste can be discharged in the river or any limit based on rainfall.

“I think we’re on the right road,” said Wilson Lowery, a DeBordieu resident who has worked on the project. “I’m appreciative DHEC understood what we wanted to do.”

The proposed discharge site is at the bridge where Highway 17 crosses the Waccamaw River. That’s where the river empties into Winyah Bay, the third largest estuary on the East Coast.

“There’s a tremendous amount of water and nutrient-enriched load” going into the bay, Allen said. “I would be amazed if this is more than a blip.”

“We’re not degrading the river,” said Chet Maslowski, a utility board member who lives in DeBordieu. “The water we’re sending from our treatment plant is much better than what’s in the river now.”

That’s not true in North Inlet, Allen said. Data shows that there are spikes in nutrient levels in the inlet following heavy rains such as those associated with tropical storms, a sign that treated waste is running off the land.

“North Inlet had a great flushing capacity,” he said. “The residence time of what comes in is really short.”

The concern for scientists is a slow, continuous flow of treated wastewater into the estuary.

“We don’t see that,” Allen said, “but there’s less chance of seepage if there’s an alternate discharge.”

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