$12 million is needed to fix problems with Timmonsville water systems

About 200 people attended a meeting in Timmonsville Wednesday evening about an upcoming referendum that will ask citizens to allow the City of Florence to take over the town's water and sewer systems.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Justice Department, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control,filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against the Town of Timmonsville for wastewater and drinking water violations.

The Justice Department wants the court to order Timmonsville to address "the imminent, substantial and potential risks to human health posed by discharges of raw sewage or partially-treated wastewater into the environment, as well as take steps necessary to bring the wastewater and drinking water systems into compliance with federal and state laws."

"The sewer is mixing in with the water that we drink. And I'm trying to figure out what we can do to fix this. Then you got a bunch of sewer lines and everything up town that's busted," said resident Phillip Miles.

Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela addressed the crowd at the meeting.

He says if voters approve next Tuesday's referendum, the City of Florence will immediately have to spend millions to fix the problems at the wastewater treatment plant.

Wukela says the total cost to get the plant running correctly again is $12 million.

He says Florence is willing to do whatever it takes to improve Timmonsville's water systems.

"A neighbor has a responsibility to its neighbor. And as a citizen of Florence County, as a citizen of the State of South Carolina and the United States of America, I don't care where you're from you're entitled to have clean water," said Mayor Wukela.

An official with the EPA also talked with residents and said the agency believes Florence taking over the water systems is beneficial to Timmonsville.

"We've been working very, very closely with the town and with Florence to try to come up with a permanent and consistent way to bring the town into compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. We believe that the option that the town is presenting is a viable one," said Suzanne Armor with EPA.

A DHEC representative assured residents that despite the violations the water is safe to drink in Timmonsville.

"For the past almost 12, 12 months, we have been doing regular, almost weekly of the Timmonsville system to ensure that the public drinking water is safe," said Buck Graham with DHEC.

Since 2005, the EPA has issued two administrative orders directing Timmonsville to address threats to public health and the environment arising from failure to properly operate and maintain its wastewater system.

The complaint documents how Timmonsville's wastewater treatment plant has been discharging partially-treated wastewater nearly continuously since September 2012, and that the town's sewer system has had several significant overflows of untreated, raw sewage from broken or blocked sewer lines.

The complaint also documents deficiencies DHEC identified with the drinking water system, including failure to maintain adequate levels of residual chlorine in the system, failure to maintain adequate fire hydrant flow pressures and failure to properly operate and maintain water filters at the main water treatment plant.

Since 2007, DHEC has issued three consent orders directing Timmonsville to address threats to public health arising from failure to properly operate and maintain its drinking water system.

The referendum vote takes place next Tuesday.