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Water Quality:
Three Strikes- Sewer Spills

Our Position: support
Bill Number: H3617
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Pitts
Legislative Session: 11/12

Important Water Quality Bill aimed at reducing threat of Sewer Spills will be considered by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, April 12, 2011, in Room 410 of the Blatt Building. Public Invited. Public testimony has already been heard, so no public comments will be taken at this meeting. Attendance and numbers count though.

H.3617 – Rep. Mike Pitts, Laurens - Requires that a management plan be developed for domestic wastewater treatment  operations that have repetitive significant spills.

There are almost 500 domestic  wastewater treatment companies in SC, most of which have a good track record and are doing an adequate job of safely handling wastewater and protecting human health and the environment.  A small number of these facilities cause the vast majority of the problems. Spills of a million gallons or more are not uncommon.

Case in point- On Tuesday, the Coventry Woods wastewater treatment plant in Lexington County spilled an estimated 720,000 gallons of partially treated sewage into Twelve Mile Creek, a tributary of the lower Saluda River. The lower Saluda is a major recreation and fishery resource in the Columbia and Lexington area. This area of the river has been plagued by spills for years and little has been done to remedy the situation. Alpine utilities, also on the Saluda, is a major contributor to this illegal and dangerous water pollution. Just downstream, on the Congaree River, the City of Columbia Wastewater treatment plant is one of the worst offenders in the state, spilling tens of thousands of gallons on a regular basis.

Last year the the state’s conservation groups got behind a Sierra Club iniative to develop and pass legislation to  require repetitive offenders to hire a qualified firm to study its operation and develop a plan for upgrades and proper management. This bill did not pass, but this year the environmental community had joined with the SC Water Quality Association, SCWQA, to help  rewrite and pass a bill that will require a DHEC approved management plan called a  Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) Plan for repeat offenders.


This bill, as amended, is below and has been recommended for passage by the House Agriculture Committee’s Environmental Subcommittee. It has fairly good support in the full Committee.




SECTION 1. Chapter 1, Title 48 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:

"Section 48-1-95. (A) As used in this section:

(1) 'Action plan' or 'plan' means a schedule for implementing and completing repairs, upgrades, and improvements needed to minimize future repetitive significant spills of untreated or partially treated domestic sewage.

(2) Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) Plan. A CMOM Plan is a comprehensive, dynamic framework for wastewater utilities to identify and incorporate widely accepted wastewater industry practices to (1) better manage, operate, and maintain collection systems, (2) investigate capacity constrained areas of the collection system, and (3) respond to sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) events.

(3) 'Comprehensive review' or 'review' means a complete technical assessment of the components and operation of a sewage system or its treatment works that are contributing to, or may be contributing to, repetitive significant spills of untreated or partially treated domestic sewage.

(4) ‘Significant spill’ means a net discharge from a wastewater utility of at least five thousand gallons of untreated or partially treated domestic sewage that could cause a serious adverse impact on the environment or public health. Significant spill does not include spills caused by a natural disaster, direct acts of a third party or other act of God.

(5) 'Wastewater utility' or 'utility' means the operator or owner of a sewage collection system or its treatment works providing sewer service to the public. Manufacturers, electric utilities, and agricultural operations are exempt from this section. Wastewater treatment systems located on property owned by the federal government are exempt also from this section.

(6) 'Department' means the Department of Health and Environmental Control.


(B) Utilities must notify the Department of any significant spill orally within 24 hours and by written submission within 5 days.

(C) Upon receiving notice of a significant spill from a wastewater utility, the department must then determine whether the responsible wastewater utility has had more than two significant spills per hundred miles of its sewage collection system (in the aggregate and excluding private service laterals) during the twelve-month period up to and including the date of the significant spill in question.

(D)(1) If the wastewater utility has had more than two significant spills per 100 miles of its aggregate collection system miles, during a twelve month period, then the department must issue an order directing the utility to complete a comprehensive review of the sewage system and treatment works facility identified pursuant to subsection (C) or if the wastewater utility has a Department approved Capacity, Management, Operations, and Maintenance (CMOM) plan in place, directing the utility to update its CMOM plan.

The order will include, but not be limited to:

(i) the submission of the findings of the comprehensive review or CMOM update;

(ii) the required implementation of any plans to minimize the recurrence of such significant spills.

(2) The comprehensive review or update to an approved CMOM (pursuant to subsection (D) (1)) must be performed by a licensed South Carolina professional engineer.

(3) Unless the department’s order is being appealed, the comprehensive review or CMOM update must be initiated by the wastewater utility's owner within two months of receiving an order from the department or in the case of an appeal, within two months from the date the order becomes final and non-appealable.

(E) The department shall require that all wastewater utilities provide public notice of any significant spill of 5,000 gallons or more within 24 hours of the discovery. Where the responsible wastewater utility does not provide such notice, in addition to any enforcement response, the department shall provide public notice of the significant spill.

(F) Nothing in this Act shall contravene the Department’s ability to undertake enforcement actions under the PCA or any other state or federal law.

SECTION 2. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.





Passed Both House and Senate --Now Law

Action Needed

Thank Sponsors and members of the Legislature.

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