The City of Columbia and Blue Granite Water Company (formerly Carolina Water Service) have reached an agreement that has ended the discharge of treated wastewater from Blue Granite's Friarsgate facility into the Saluda River.
Blue Granite and the city announced that the Friarsgate Wastewater Treatment Plant has been interconnected with the city's wastewater treatment system. That connection formally began at about 2:30 p.m. on March 29, ending the discharge from that facility into the Saluda.
This marks the second discharge from the company formerly known as Carolina Water Service that has been ended in roughly a year's time. The oft-controversial discharge from Blue Granite's former I-20 plant into the Saluda River formally ended in February 2018. That came after the Town of Lexington took ownership of the plant and began pumping wastewater from the I-20 facility to a regional wastewater treatment plant in Cayce.
"We are excited," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tells Free Times, of the interconnection with Friarsgate. "[The city] has been working closely and diligently with Blue Granite for the past year to remove that discharge from the Friarsgate plant into the Saluda River. With this discharge eliminated, potential sewer spills from that plant are a thing of the past. They had become so common and frequent. This is a significant move in the right direction.
"It's another example of the work we are doing in infrastructure investment."
Blue Granite officials also touted the deal, which was a wholesale interconnection and treatment agreement.
“The connection of the Friarsgate WWTP to Columbia Water’s facilities is an example of how constructive working relationships and proactive implementation of regional water quality management plans can benefit both utility customers and the environment,” Michael Cartin, Blue Granite’s director of external affairs, said in a release.
River advocacy nonprofit Congaree Riverkeeper has long kept a keen eye on the company once known as Carolina Water. The agency filed a federal lawsuit that was key in ending the discharge from the company's former I-20 plant. That lawsuit was settled last month.
Riverkeeper leader Bill Stangler tells Free Times he is thrilled to see the discharge from the Friarsgate facility — which dumped into the river near Saluda Shoals Park — come to an end.
"This is really good news," Stangler says. "And a really important piece in eliminating those domestic wastewater discharges from the lower Saluda River. This facility had big problems in 2016 and 2017 that caused swimming advisories. Some very public issues and ones that were very concerning."
Perhaps the most high-profile incident in connection with the Friarsgate discharge came in June 2016, when DHEC advised people not to swim in the river near Saluda Shoals Park for a while and some river tube rentals were temporarily suspended at the height of the summer season because of high levels of bacteria.
With the I-20 discharge having ended a year ago and the Friarsgate discharge now having been eliminated, various agencies will now look to the future.
As part of the lawsuit settlement agreement between Blue Granite and Congaree Riverkeeper, Blue Granite has said it will work toward connecting its Watergate treatment facility in Lexington County — which discharges into Fourteen Mile Creek — to the Town of Lexington's system sometime in the coming years.
"It's hard to say exactly when that's going to be," Stangler says, of the possible Watergate discharge ending. "It's going to take some negotiation between Blue Granite and the Town of Lexington. ... We agreed not to take any legal action against [Blue Granite] for that Watergate issue for five years. I hope and think it can happen sooner than that, and I think Blue Granite wants it to happen sooner than that."
In recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on the importance of the rivers to Columbia and the Midlands. Benjamin says the ending of the Friarsgate wastewater discharge is a key step in keeping that momentum going.
"The birth of this city and the prosperity of this city are inextricably entwined with our rivers and healthy rivers," the mayor says. "We have the potential to be an urban oasis, because of the Broad, the Saluda and the Congaree rivers. This takes us one major step closer to fully realizing the potential of our rivers."