Clean Our Creek
JAMES ISLAND CREEK TMDL
SEWER EXPANSION PROJECT
SCDHEC (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control) has designated James Island Creek as an "impaired waterway." The Town of James Island is committed to improving the water quality in James Island Creek. The James Island Creek TMDL was completed in November, 2019.
The three local governments responsible for stormwater management in the James Island Creek Watershed, the Town of James Island, Charleston County, and the City of Charleston, are mandated to monitor bacteria levels in the creek and develop an action plan during the next five years. This mandate is directly from SCDHEC, but indirectly from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Failure to comply can result in multi-million dollar fines for local governments.
Creation of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) for a joint response began early on and was signed in December 2020. The County has hired a consultant, Wolpert Engineering to provide monitoring. They will test the water each month and an additional four times each year after heavy rains. Also, they will use microbial source testing four times each year to identify the waste--human, pet, or wildlife. The Town, City, and County pay for this testing in proportion to our area of jurisdiction in the watershed, roughly 58% City, 34% Town, and 8% County.
In February 2020, the local governments formed the James Island Creek Water Quality Task Force. The body includes elected officials from the Town, City, and County, key staff members from those local governments, as well as elected officials and staff members from the James Island Public Service District and the Charleston Water System. State elected officials are represented. Also, representatives from conservation groups such as Waterkeeper and Coastal Conservation League are included. The Chairman is Mayor John Tecklenburg of the City and Mayor Woolsey of the Town serves as vice Chair.
The Education and Citizen Outreach Committee, chaired by Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderly, shares information to residents about how they can help clean our creek and about what the task force and local governments are doing on their behalf. The Town, County and City all contribute stormwater utility monies paid by our residents to help fund the Ashley Cooper Education Consortium. Operated by Clemson University's Extension Service, the consortium provides a wealth of information about managing stormwater and protecting our marshes and creeks.
The Policy Committee, chaired by Charleston City Councilman Ross Appel, initiated a Watershed Plan which was provided at no cost by Terracon. All James Islanders owe this public-spirited engineering firm a hearty thanks for helping clean our creek. The James Island Creek Watershed Plan was completed in May 2021. It has been approved by SCDHEC as well as the Town of James Island, the City of Charleston, and Charleston County.
Charleston Water System funded molecular source testing for the first time this spring (March and May of 2021.) Working with Charleston Waterkeeper, their limited sampling revealed that the human DNA concentration was by far greater than the other source types analyzed. While the test results are by no means conclusive, they do indicate that human waste is indeed a factor and contributor to the pollution in the James Island Creek.
The Charleston Water Keeper has continued to monitor James Island Creek, as well as other sites in the Lowcountry, but the primary responsibility for reporting on water quality in James Island Creek is Wolpert Engineering.
SEWER EXPANSION PROJECT
Both the James Island Creek TMDL and the James Island Creek Watershed Plan put a major emphasis on failed septic systems in the watershed impairing water quality. While most of the homes in the Town, City of Charleston, and the unincorporated area in the watershed are on sewer, there are a number of homes using septic systems. The James Island Public Service District (JIPSD) provides sewer service in the Town of James Island and the unincorporated area, while the Charleston Water System provides sewer service in the City of Charleston. The most significant area in the James Island Creek Watershed that remains on septic is the Clark's Point neighborhood, most of which is in the Town of James Island. A number of homes very near James Island Creek near Oak Point Drive and Up On The Hill Road also remain on septic. The JIPSD began work to determine the cost of expanding sewer into these areas. The approximate cost was $10 million.
The JIPSD began to seek grant funding from the State of South Carolina to allow for the expansion of sewer service in these areas. The Federal government provided funds to state and local governments as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA. ) Early on, one of the allowed uses was for sewer projects. The Town has committed $444,000 from its share of ARPA funds, the Charleston Water System has committed $85,000 towards the project, the JIPSD has committed $18,000 towards the project, and the Charleston Water Keeper contributed $100. The JIPSD has obtained grants from the State of South Carolina making up the remainder of the cost. State Representative Spencer Wetmore obtained an earmark of $1,000,000 for the JIPSD in the 2022-23 SC budget to help fund the project and Senator Chip Campsen obtained an earmark of $1,000,000 in 2023-24 for the Town for water quality in James Island Creek. Spencer Wetmore helped to secure an additional $200,000 in funding in the 23-24 SC budget to help with the project.
The Town intends to use its earmark to cover the costs that homeowners would ordinarily have to pay to tie to sewer the public sewer system. The impact and tap fees, collected by the JIPSD and CWS are approximately $3000 per home. The cost of connecting a home to the sewer line at the street will depend on the particular home, but will likely average close to the same amount. The Town is committed to covering these "upfront costs" for residents of the Town.
Approximately 90% of homes in the Town are already on sewer and once completed, this project will bring the total up to nearly 95%. The system planned for Clark's Point will be a gravity system, which is what most Town residents have now. The expected cost for an average homeowner will be about $67 per month. The much smaller number of residents in Oak Point (some of them in the Town) and Up On the Hill Road (in the City or unincorporated area,) will need to have grinder pumps. The expected monthly cost will be about $97.
The Charleston Water System and the JIPSD are regulated by SCDHEC. Much of the sewage from Lowcountry, including the sewage from the Town and unincorporated area of James Island, goes to the CWS sewage treatment plan at Plum Island. While Plum Island is near where James Island Creek enters Charleston Harbor, the waters off of Plum Island are regularly monitored and are not an important source of pollution of James Island Creek. The Charleston Water System had two serious sewage leaks near Harbor View Road over the last five years. CWS was required by SCDHEC to monitor the results. The tidal action in that part of the creek soon ameliorated the problem.
The Town also responded to the concerns in the James Island Creek TMDL and James Island Creek Watershed Plan regarding failed septic systems by tightening up the regulation of septic systems in the Town. The initial installation of septic systems is regulated by SCDHEC. However, they no longer have records of most of the septic systems on James Island. SCDHEC requires no regular inspection of septic systems to determine failures. SCDHEC does recommend periodic inspections of septic systems. The Town has mandated septic inspections every three years. Also, in the James Island Creek Watershed, the Town requires and is paying for a complete septic inspection for each home.
- ORDINANCE 2021-06 Regulations on Routine Inspection and Maintenance of Private Septic Tank Systems
- ORDINANCE 2021-10 An Ordinance Requiring Baseline Inspections of Septic Systems in the James Island Creek TMDL
Ordinance 2021-06 establishes regulations on routine inspections and maintenance of private septic systems within the Town's jurisdiction.
All private sewerage systems must receive an inspection by a licensed contractor every 3 years, and the owner thereof shall provide documentation of such inspection upon request by the Town Code Enforcement Officer within 10 calendar days of such request.
Failure to timely provide acceptable documentation of inspection evidencing an inspection of the private sewerage system within 3 years prior to such request, or within 10 days after such request, shall entitle the Town to require an inspection through a licensed contractor. Should the owner fail to provide proof of an inspection within 30 calendar days, the Town may perform an inspection through a licensed contractor at the owner's expense.
In the event such inspection reveals a failed system, in whole or in part, the Town shall require the owner to perform such repairs or maintenance as may be called for from such inspection, at owner's expense, within 60 calendar days of the earlier of the mailing of or personal receipt of such notice. If the repair(s) are such that 60 days is not sufficient time to complete the repair(s), evidence of the scheduled repair(s) shall be presented to the Town and timeline for repair(s) must be approved by the Town Code Enforcement Officer.
In the event the owner has documentation or other acceptable proof of an acceptable inspection with the time prescribed, yet the Town Code Enforcement Officer has reason to believe a baseline or other additional inspection is warranted, the Town may perform such inspection as is required in the Town's discretion at the Town's expense and impose the necessity of repair or maintenance at the homeowner's expense.
See HERE for an interactive guide to find a Licensed SCDHEC Septic Installers in Charleston County. Note: Inspections should be done by a licensed septic tank installer, not a company that only performs pump-outs. For a list of additional vendors state-wide, visit https://scdhec.gov/environment/your-home/septic-tanks/overview-septic-tanks
Ordinance 2021-10 requires baseline inspections to be done of every septic system located within the James Island Creek Watershed. Town staff continues to carry out this plan and contacting the residents. Below are the specific objectives of this ordinance:
- All septic systems in the James Island Creek TMDL under Town jurisdiction must have a baseline inspection at Town expense before June 30, 2022 (this is a continual process).
- A "baseline inspection" means a thorough evaluation of an operating private sewage system to determine whether the system is functioning as designed, is not exhibiting signs of failure, and is being operated properly. A pump out of the system is required for a baseline inspection to properly examine the interior of the tank and to check for leaks from the house or saturated conditions in the drainfield. All inspections and pump outs must be performed by septic contractors with valid SCDHEC licenses.
- Town Council appropriates $150,000 to pay for baseline inspections for septic systems in the James Island Creek TMDL under Town jurisdiction from unencumbered capital project funds in the 2021/2022 budget year.
- The Town Public Works Department shall coordinate with one or more licensed septic contractors and property owners and residents to provide for the required baseline inspection.
- The required baseline inspection is an "additional inspection" as provided for in Town of James Island Code 91.03 Section C 10.
- Any septic system that received a baseline inspection that is properly documented within the last three years meeting these requirements is exempt from the ordinance.
Click HERE for an interactive map of septic tank installers that have been licensed by SCDHEC. Please note a proper inspection should be completed by an installer, not a company that solely performs pump-outs.