Thomasville receives notice of intent to sue over Clean Water Act violations

From the Yadkin Riverkeeper:

On behalf of the Yadkin Riverkeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center gave notice to the City of Thomasville for violations of the federal Clean Water Act for repeatedly discharging untreated sewage from its wastewater system into waterways in the Yadkin River Basin. In the summer of 2009, a single sewage spill reportedly lasted several days and discharged more than 15.9 million gallons of wastewater into a tributary of Hamby Creek, eventually entering Abbotts Creek and High Rock Lake. At the time, Thomasville only reported a 385,000 gallon spill which prompted an investigation by Yadkin Riverkeeper after receiving a tip from a Thomasville plant employee. Yadkin Riverkeeper’s findings led to an EPA investigation. Thomasville later assured Yadkin Riverkeeper and the general public they would address their failing sewage system. Since September 2009, Thomasville has reported 144 additional sanitary sewer overflow episodes that discharged nearly three million gallons of additional untreated sewage, 2,844,418 gallons of which reached local waterways—almost 19 million gallons of raw sewage over the last four years. Thomasville’s sewage spills eventually flow into Abbotts Creek, and eventually into High Rock Lake, waterways that the state has already determined to be impaired by pollution. Thomasville’s discharges are prohibited under the Federal Clean Water Act. The state Division of Water Quality has periodically fined Thomasville for the discharges, but has not taken any comprehensive enforcement action to address the pattern of violations. “Millions of gallons of Thomasville sewage dumped into streams leading to the Yadkin River and High Rock Lake which means fecal coliform, viruses, and disease-causing bacteria now contaminate those waters, threatening public health,” said Dean Naujoks, Riverkeeper and Executive Director of Yadkin Riverkeeper. “Downstream residents should not have to worry about their children swimming in sewage and getting sick. Fishable, swimmable, drinkable water is a fundamental right granted to every citizen under the Clean Water Act.” Sanitary sewer overflows are incidents in which untreated sewage flows out of the system of pipes and pump stations that transport sewage from homes and businesses to a wastewater treatment plant. Thomasville’s sewage discharges are caused by multiple factors, including mechanical failures, pipe failures, and seepage resulting from an aging collection system. Thomasville has a long history of such incidents, with sewage spills regularly reported since at least 2007. The notice issued to Thomasville means that the Southern Environmental Law Center will file suit at the end of a 60-day period, unless the violations are addressed. The notice was sent to Thomasville’s Mayor and City Manager, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Despite years of violations, Thomasville has not made the system-wide improvements necessary to stop these serious, recurrent violations,” said Julie Youngman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We hope that this notice will spur Thomasville to work with state agencies to create and fund an enforceable plan to end the sewage spills.”


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