James Island septic pollution a sign of broader SC problem | Editorials

Despite tests showing the pollution came from neighboring septic tanks, despite local and state officials' success in raising more than $11 million to address the problem, and despite seemingly broad public support for action, James could Island Creek will remain polluted for many years to come.

It would be easy to blame septic tanks on the dozens of homeowners who have refused to accept generous offers from the Charleston Water System or the James Island Public Service District to connect to one of these septic systems without giving them little or no up front no costs arise. Because if all 199 affected property owners did this, there is good reason to believe that the stream's water quality would recover. At least faster than would otherwise be the case.

But the real problem isn't these homeowners, who understandably don't want to pay a monthly sewer bill — especially one that could easily cost $100 a month, considering the pumps required to run that new sewer line — if they can avoid it.

And individual homeowners have little way of knowing whether their wastewater treatment system is working well or is actually polluting the stream. Testing so far only suggests that septic tanks are generally the main problem; It cannot be determined exactly which one.

No, the main fault lies with state legislators and health officials who have for too long been complacent with South Carolina's very lax system for permitting and regulating septic tanks. It is their laws and policies that allow property owners with compromised or failing septic systems to harm our environment at no direct cost to them.

As The Post and Courier's John Ramsey recently reported, the James Island Creek Task Force has secured nearly $12 million in federal, state and local funds to connect 199 homes to sewer lines at no cost to property owners after testing found the main source The fecal bacteria found in the stream came from humans, not wild animals or domestic animals.

But homeowners still have to do their part. The James Island Public Service District has hired easement negotiators to negotiate one-on-one with property owners, but about 20 of them disagree with the easements needed to install pump stations. Even more troubling is the Charleston Water System's experience: It has failed to convince a single one of its 34 customers to join. While the utility hasn't conducted a survey to find out why, it has heard that some are hesitant to commit to a monthly bill without clear evidence that their own septic tank is part of the problem.

Utilities face a deadline because most of their money – federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – will expire in two years if not spent by then.

We support a bill that would ban the approval of new septic tanks within two miles of shore or other waterways, but lawmakers must also require monitoring of existing systems to ensure they are working properly – and give regulators more power to inspect them Septic tanks submit applications for entire neighborhoods rather than just reviewing them for each individual home. You also need to reconsider the depths and types of soils in which septic tanks can be installed, especially in light of rising water tables.

Unless the state changes its approach, we will not make much progress in eliminating current problems or preventing even more serious problems in the future, no matter how much public money is spent on them.

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