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Should I be concerned following a sewer break near Lake Thurmond?

McCORMICK COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — Following a sewer line break at Lake Thurmond and a no-swim advisory in McCormick County, it's leaving a lot of people wondering whether to cancel their weekend plans. The Army Corps of Engineers say, not so fast.

"We had not heard a thing about it," Grant Preston told NewsChannel 6's Shawn Cabbagestalk when asked about the swimming advisory in McCormick County. 

We caught Preston enjoying the day on the Lake with his wife and grandchildren. "The kids loved it," Preston said. " They "saw a big ole fish come along.  One was scared and the others just chased the fish," he added. 

"We have been out here one time before about a year ago."

County officials estimate about 90,000 gallons of sewage spilled from a pipeline around the Little River Bridge on Highway 378 and Rhett Drive in McCormick County. Some of the sewage reached into Thurmond Lake, impacting approximately 2 miles of shoreline out of the 1,200 miles of shoreline around the reservoir.

“Even if all 90,000 gallons of sewage entered the water, that amounts to 0.000016 percent of the estimated 563 billion (with a “b”) gallons of water in the reservoir,” Scott Hyatt said. “The spillage only affected a small area.”

Hyatt is the Operations Project Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. He says his office has received a number of calls asking about the spill. "This is a gigantic lake," Hyatt added.

Most of the people calling into the Army Corps of Engineers are either thinking about canceling plans for the weekend or just making an inquiry. Hyatt said that some of these folks are 15 to 20 miles away. "You don't have a reason to be concerned for other sections of the lake."

But, he says you have a right to be cautious. "There is a reason to be concerned in the vicinity of the Little River Bridge.  If you're on other parts of the Savannah, if you're on Little River Georgia, on the Georgia side, distances and volumes of water are so far. You don't have a reason to be concerned for other sections of the lake," he told NewsChannel 6's Shawn Cabbagestalk.

With distance on your side, "Because of where this happened Baker Creek State Park is upstream of the spill. You could potentially see wind and other pushback from it.  You could have a little bit of an impact there.  Otherwise, most of the recreational areas are too far away. The next nearest campground is about three miles downstream from that location," he added.

Officials are still testing the waters to make sure everything is safe for you and your loved ones. "Some of the test results haven't come back in yet. They [McCormick County officials] are expecting the results sometime today." Once officials know more about what's in the water, "we could get a better assessment.  The areas will stay posted until we get an all clear on the test and then the signs will come down when it's safe for folks to get back into the water," Hyatt added. 

We're told officials at Thurmond Lake routinely monitor water quality at its swim beaches. They conducted a water check after the spill – a check previously scheduled. Some of the beaches are on the Georgia side of the reservoir which is not impacted by the spill. Corps-operated swim beaches on the South Carolina side of the reservoir are miles away from the spill.

Preston is not allowing the spill to put a damper on his family time this summer. "It's going to dissipate and spread out," Preston added. "There were certainly no signs or smells of any kind so we're probably going to go back in for a few more minutes before we leave."

Shawn did ask officials whether the County would be charged for that sewer spill and he was told no unless it was deemed to be a deliberate act.

"This is a new sewer line," Hyatt said. "They just replaced that bridge.  The old line used to be attached to the bridge.  There were some regulatory requirements that did not allow them to attach it to the new bridge.  So, they had to drill it under the lake.  I believe they are still in what you would call a warranty phase with the contractor who installed it. The county may be able to go back to them for corrections if it was engineered improperly," Hyatt added.

Meanwhile, that no-swim advisory for the portion of the lake where the spill took place will remain in effect until further notice.


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