City takes steps to meet DHEC demand for wastewater treatment
After being hit with costly fines by the Department of Health and Environmental Control on numerous occasions within the past decade, major steps are about to be taken to reduce the amount of pollution the City of Georgetown releases into the Sampit River from its Wastewater Treatment Plant.
But to get in compliance is going to cost a lot of money, according to Jonathan Heald, public service director in Georgetown.
Heald updated council about the situation at a recent meeting, reminding them the city is under a DHEC consent order for illegally discharging wastewater into the river.
“This is the fourth consent order since 2003. That is not a good track record,” Heald said.
The problem, Heald explained, is the size of the holding pond at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. It is much too big.
The water is clean after it is treated and placed in the pond, Heald said. However, the water can only be released from the pond into the river while the tide is falling. It is while the water is sitting in the pond “mother nature takes over and does what mother nature does” and causes pollution, Heald said. “The water is in good shape when it goes in the pond.”
Since 2003, the Wastewater Treatment Plant has had the capacity to clean as much as 12 million gallons per day but only treats about four million gallons daily.
After the water is treated it is sent to a 22-acre retention pond where it sits until it can be released into the river. DHEC says the city is discharging too much of a bacteria called Enterococcus. City officials said that type of pollution is caused by seagulls and alligators that go into the retention pond.
It is bodily waste from the birds and gators that cause the unacceptable increase in Enterococcus.
Decrease the pond size
Heald said the solution to the problem is to subdivide the huge holding pond into smaller units so the water is not staying stagnant as long before being discharged into the river.
At Heald’s request, City Council agreed spend $191,570 to hire Jacobs Engineering of Myrtle Beach to do the design work for the pond reduction.
That money is not for the construction itself.
Heald said he will return to council to ask for “a lot more money” for the construction phase once the designs are complete.
Former interim City Administrator Carey Smith told the Georgetown Times in December making the holding pond as big as it is was a “design flaw” that was made when the treatment plant was being built.
Jacobs Engineering is expected to create a plan to divide the pond into three sections. One section will be around 11 acres with the other two sections being slightly bigger than five acres each.
Although Heald did not say how much the pond reduction will cost, Smith placed the price tag around $1.25 million.
Not another Timmonsville
Heald said he wants to get the job done and done right, especially after seeing what happened in the town of Timmonsville.
Last month voters in that Pee Dee town voted overwhelmingly to hand over their water system to the city of Florence.
A lawsuit brought recently by the EPA contends the town's water could impact the health of those who use it. And while the town is $6.5 million in debt, the price tag for repairs to the water system is about $12 million.
The approval sets up the groundwork for an a 30 year loan/grant agreement through the US Dept. of Agriculture, which would finance the deal.
Heald said when he makes decisions, one thing he asks himself is it will keep him out of the newspaper in a negative way.
“If it is positive, I am all for it. If it’s negative, I do not want it,” Heald said.
By Scott Harper
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