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DeBordieu wastewater permit concerns prompt hearing

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State regulators will hold a hearing next month on a proposal that would allow up to 500,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater to be pumped into the Waccamaw River near Winyah Bay.

The wastewater will come from a treatment plant at DeBordieu that currently disposes of effluent by spraying it over the community’s golf course.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control agreed to the alternate disposal plan, but only when rainfall or the volume of waste makes golf course disposal impractical.

The plan has the support of the University of South Carolina’s Baruch Marine Institute, which has a field lab on North Inlet at Hobcaw Barony. University officials say the spray disposal of treated wastewater poses a threat to the pristine estuary that is the focus of their research.

The Winyah Rivers Foundation, which sponsors the Waccamaw Riverkeeper program, says discharging the wastewater to the river also poses a threat.

The Waccamaw River is “an already impaired water body,” said Richard Moore, president of Winyah Rivers, in his request for a hearing. He is concerned about levels of dissolved oxygen, bacteria and nutrients in the river.

Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, told the agency that three years of monitoring the water at 12 sites along the river show it exceeds state standards for dissolved oxygen and bacteria.

“We have concerns about a new discharge of treated sanitary water into the Waccamaw River watershed,” she said.

Dennis Allen, director of the Baruch Marine Lab, is an advisor to the Winyah Rivers Foundation. But he and James Morris, the Baruch Institute director, endorsed the alternate disposal plan. They point out that the disposal site near the Highway 17 bridge, is near the southern end of a basin that drains water from as far as southwestern Virginia.

“Winyah Bay receives runoff from more than 18,000 square miles of uplands, including extensive farmlands and hundreds of communities,” they told the agency. “Background levels of dissolved and particulate materials in this tidally-dynamic waterway may not be very different from those in the treated wastewater.”

The Baruch Institute is concerned that the wastewater sprayed on the golf course could flow directly into North Inlet if there is a major rainfall.

DeBordieu property owners, who will pay the cost of the $1.4 million project, say that in addition to the potential impact on North Inlet the spray disposal impacts the golf course and causes odors. The DeBordieu sewage treatment plant is operated by the Georgetown County Water and Sewer District, which applied for the alternate discharge permit.

The Coastal Conservation League, which has been at odds with the utility over its plans to install a sewer system in the Plantersville area on the Pee Dee River, also supports the permit. Nancy Cave, director of the league’s North Coast office, told DHEC that 14 million gallons of wastewater were sprayed on the course in July 2008, a month when it also received 18 inches of rain.

“With these levels of effluent and this amount of rainfall, runoff went directly into ponds that drain into North Inlet,” Cave said.

The permit for river disposal would allow up to 500,000 gallons a day from March through October, but only if the 3.5 million gallon storage lagoon at DeBordieu is full, and only if the golf course isn’t irrigated from any other source.

From November through February, the permit would allow up to 375,000 gallons a day to be discharged in the river under the same conditions.

The state Department of Natural Resources also supports the alternate discharge.

“The proposed ‘back-up’ discharge will not substantially alter the quality of the natural environment, provided the applicant strictly adheres to all effluent limitations and permit conditions designed to maximize the use of the existing land application site,” said Priscilla Wendt, the agency’s environmental programs manager.

A hearing on the permit is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at Waccamaw Middle School.

At 6 p.m., DHEC staff will discuss the permit proposal and answer questions from the public.

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