Havelock SSOs still on Sound Rivers’ radar

A history of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) in Havelock has led Sound Rivers’ Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop to make some suggestions as the town’s original deal with the state to get the issues fixed has expired and a new one is set to take its place.

“While important steps have been taken to address the City of Havelock’s sewage issue, we recognize that there is still much work to be done to bring the city into compliance with its Collection System Permit,” Sam wrote in public comments about the Havelock’s amended special order of consent (SOC) with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources (DWR).

The initial SOC to make sure the town repaired its sewer problems was put in place in December 2019; since, the town experienced four spills, dumping nearly 400,000 gallons of sewage into tributaries of the Neuse River. While the city claimed infrastructure repairs has reduced its sewer flow by 300,000 gallons per day, it requested an additional 20,000 gpd in May of 2021. However, there is no public record of a DWR analysis to determine whether the reduction took place, which is required. There is also no public record of whether the additional flow allocation was approved, nor documentation of a process that the state uses to ensure that there would be no additional burden to the sewer system.

“The application filed by the City in December 2021 does not request an additional allocation of wastewater, only a timeline extension of two years to complete the necessary upgrades,” Sam wrote.

Two issues stand out: untreated waste entering waterways and a lack of transparency as to how and when these issues are being fixed.

When untreated human waste enters waterways, there is an influx of bacteria and nutrients. Bacteria can pose threats to recreational users, and excess nutrients contribute to the fish kills seen in the Neuse River each summer. Slocum Creek, in Havelock, is one of the sites tested weekly during Sound Rivers’ summer-long Swim Guide program. It’s also located in an area with a history of SSOs. Last year, Slocum Creek, a popular recreation site, had a Swim Guide fail rate of 64%, meaning E. coli levels exceeded federal recreational water-quality standards seven out of 11 times.

“Moving forward, we request that the City and DEQ be more transparent and find appropriate ways to communicate the ongoing repairs problems and plans with regular communication to city residents and stakeholders, especially those directly impacted by SSOs. Sound Rivers has received dozens of complaints and inquiries by concerned residents in the past two years, highlighting the public’s interest regarding this issue,” Sam wrote. “While the timeline has been extended an additional two years, please do what you can to implement repairs on an expedited timeline, with a priority toward those locations that have experienced SSOs in the recent past, and those locations likely to be over capacity in the near future. We believe that significant environmental and health impacts to Slocum creek and the City of Havelock warrant an urgent and timely approach to completing the construction and repair process ahead.”