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Tega Cay Water Service apologizes for erroneous alert; Haley weighs in

SC Governor Civil Rights
Alice Keeney - AP
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

TEGA CAY A surprise message to Tega Cay residents about their drinking water on Friday shouldn’t alarm them, according to Tega Cay Water Service. The water was – and remains – safe.

The problem, it appears, is with the delivery of the notice itself.

On March 14 a call went out to residents from the utility repealing a previous boil water notice. However, many residents say they hadn’t been made aware of any such notice. The message should have stated that a no-swim advisory related to another sewage spill was no longer in effect.

“It was sent in error, steps have been taken to insure that it cannot happen again and new notification methods are being established in addition to voice reach,” Tom Oakley, a spokesman with parent company Utilities, Inc., said late Monday.

Rick Durham heads the utility’s operation in South Carolina. Durham put out a letter to city residents explaining the confusion.

“At no time in the past week has your health been at risk due to a water main break,” reads the letter. “The voice reach message that was sent on (March 14) announcing the repeal of a boil water advisory was sent in error.”

There was a water boil notice put in place earlier in the week following a water main repair, for 16 residences. A repeal of that notice went out two days prior to the error message. The no swim advisory went into effect following a wastewater spill by the utility and was removed when bacteria levels fell within a safe range.

Increased employee training and notification improvements are planned to avoid a similar incident in the future. The utility apologized for the “confusion and justifiable concern that has been generated” by the mistake.

“I am terribly sorry for this situation but want to assure you that your health was never at risk and that your water supply was safe,” Durham wrote.

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage have spilled into Lake Wyle from the Tega Cay treatment plant the past few years. Meanwhile, officials have been taking notice. Recently, both the EPA and the S.C. Department of Health and the Environment have issued orders to the utility to do more to prevent sewage leaks.

On the heels of more than 50,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled already this month, S.C. Governor Nikki Haley sent a letter to Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard, assuring him that DHEC will "ratchet up the pressure" on the utility company.

Haley's staff has met with local government officials, upset residents and company representatives over the past year, according to her letter sent last week. She's asked DHEC Director Catherine Templeton to "use all the tools and resources legally at her disposal" to motivate the Tega Cay Water Service to bring its system "into compliance" or sell its system to someone who will.

"Tega Cay deserves better," Haley wrote.

Herald reporter Anna Douglas contributed.

John Marks •  803-831-8166
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