COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Bacteria levels in a section of the Saluda River spiked late last week, prompting the state's environmental agency to issue warnings to swimmers.
But a controversial company that owns a nearby wastewater treatment plant says it remains "uncertain" that plant is the source of the elevated bacterial contamination.
Over the weekend, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control put up warning signs near the Saluda Shoals Park boat ramp.
That happened after the Friarsgate sewage treatment plant on Greenbriar Drive in Irmo experienced an "upset" in plant operations on Thursday. The plant discharges treated water into the Saluda several miles away.
Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler says tests showed water near the plant's discharge pipe were nearly three times the allowable limit for bacteria. Last year, a discharge linked to the plant led to DHEC to post warnings for about 17 days at the height of summer recreational activity.
Earlier this year, DHEC fined Carolina Water Service and Utilities Inc. almost $79,000 for allowing improperly treated water to enter the river.
Stangler believes the latest contamination problem is connected to the Irmo plant.
But a Utilities Inc. spokesman says a DHEC official told members of the Saluda River Coalition on Sunday that "it is uncertain as to whether the higher than normal bacteria levels (are) due to rainfall or other factors."
Tom Oakley says Stangler's statements "are not based on the facts of the situation." He says tests conducted before a rainfall showed bacteria well within limits.
Stangler tells WIS News 10 there was a release of sewage into the river after the plant malfunction. Carolina Water Service has appealed a $1.5 million federal fine for contamination from its I-20 sewage treatment plant.
The company has a lengthy record of discharge violations.