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Residents threaten to sue major city government after raw sewage seeps into streets: 'There are clear violations of federal law'

"One of the things we're looking for here is a clear path with a concrete timeline to fixing these problems."

"One of the things we're looking for here is a clear path with a concrete timeline to fixing these problems."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A South Carolina nonprofit has threatened to sue Charleston's water provider after raw sewage has continued to create a stinky and hazardous situation for residents.

What's happening? 

Inside Climate News reported April 7 that Charleston Water has repeatedly failed to prevent sewage from leaking into Charleston's streets amid heavy rains and storms. Since 2015, the utility company has reported 176 spills of at least 500 gallons. 

"It smells like you're living in a portaloo," West Ashley resident Nell Postell told the outlet, adding that Charleston Water sometimes sprays chemicals into the water as part of its cleanup, and she was worried about ground contamination and the health implications. 

In March, nonprofit Charleston Waterkeeper accused the utility company of violating the Clean Water Act and indicated it would sue unless Charleston Water presented its plan to prevent the sewage spills within the next 60 days. 

"There are clear violations of federal law ongoing right now," Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Catherine Wannamaker told Inside Climate News. "Charleston Water has been working on it, but it's taking too long and these problems really need to be fixed."

Why is this important?

Raw sewage contains bacteria and parasites that can make people sick, and it can lead to toxic algae blooms. When it contaminates an area, it creates a significant public health concern

Unfortunately, a warming planet is making waste management more challenging in certain communities, including Charleston, which has two rivers that connect to the Atlantic Ocean.

The city's Climate Action Plan details how the community has grappled with increased flooding amid extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

"Charleston Water is unable to accommodate rain events, tidal surge, and floodwater in a city plagued by frequent and intense storms and flooding," the nonprofit's letter of intent stated, as reported by Inside Climate News. "This issue will only grow worse as the impacts of climate change fuel worse storms and as the sewer system continues to structurally deteriorate."

What is being done?

Charleston Water spokesperson Mike Saia told Inside Climate News that the utility company has a multi-hundred-million-dollar project underway to address the spillage issues, though some residents are reportedly skeptical things will be solved in a timely manner.  

In the meantime, Charleston Waterkeeper seems committed to holding the utility company accountable. If the provider hasn't submitted its next steps to remedy the sewage problem by the end of April, the nonprofit intends to file a lawsuit in federal court. 

"We are starting to have some initial conversations with Charleston Water System about how to resolve this. One of the things we're looking for here is a clear path with a concrete timeline to fixing these problems," Wannamaker told the online platform.

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