2014 Sewer Spill Report

Sewer Spills, also called Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) are a major water quality concern in the Midlands.  Sewer Spills can result in serious risks to both public health and the overall health of our rivers.  Below is an analysis of all of the SSOs that were reported to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in 2014.

SSO on Crane Creek from March 2014 (Click here for video of the spill)

According to DHEC records there were 185 reported SSOs in the Lower Saluda, Lower Broad and Congaree River watersheds resulting in slightly less then 2 million gallons of sewage spilled in 2014.  The following chart shows the number of spills and the total volumes for the 12 sewer systems that reported spills.

Again, the City of Columbia had the most spills in the region, with ten times the volume spilled than the next highest system.  The City’s more than 1.6 million gallons spilled also exceeded their total volume from 2013 of 0.97 million gallons. The City also had five spills of more then 100,000 gallons, all of which occurred upstream of the City’s drinking water intake on the Columbia Canal. 

Perhaps the chart below, from a January 2015 update to Columbia City Council on the wastewater system, can provide some insight into the City’s SSO problem.  Last year Columbia City Council voted to significantly reduce the Capital Improvement budget for wastewater, delaying several important repair and maintenance projects.

The system with the second highest number and volume of spills was Palmetto Wastewater Reclamation (owned by Ni America), which operates the Alpine and Woodland Hills wastewater systems near the Lower Saluda.  Their largest spill (90,000 gallons) was caused by a main line collapse near the Woodlands treatment facility.  Two other significant spills (both over 20,000 gallons) were caused by mechanical failures at the Alpine treatment facility.  You can read more about the issues at Alpine in this State Newspaper article from last fall.

The top ten spills in 2014 accounted for more than 77% of the total volume of sewage spilled.  You can view a chart with the details, including date, location, waterbody affected, and cause, of all spills over 10,000 gallons here:

2014 SSOs over 10,000 Gallons

The problem areas identified by this analysis are Crane Creek, the Broad River/Columbia Canal, and the Saluda River Basin.

The cause for the majority of the reported spills, by volume, was inflow and infiltration related to wet weather.  Mechanical and human errors were also a significant cause.

You can view DHEC’s database of SSOs on their website here.

And you can view our 2013 SSO report and compare the results here.