UPDATE: Towns report wastewater spills
At least two High Country towns have reported wastewater spills due to flooding conditions that overwhelmed sewer systems this week.
An estimated 75,600 gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from a pump station at Beech Mountain this week, the town reported Wednesday.
In Banner Elk, approximately 52,200 gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from a pump station on N.C. 194 on Sunday, and another 36,250 gallons overflowed from a line on N.C. 184, the town reported Wednesday.
The Beech Mountain spill, which occurred Monday and Tuesday near 208 Grassy Gap Creek Road, sent wastewater into Buckeye Creek in the Watauga River basin. The Banner Elk overflows entered an unnamed tributary of the Elk River and the Elk River itself in the Watauga River basin, the town said.
Beech Mountain Town Manager Randy Feierabend said the spill occurred because the abundant rainfall overwhelmed the system. He said only about 300 to 400 residents are currently on the mountain, meaning much of the overflow was likely rain and not sewage.
"I can tell you with real assurance that ours was virtually all rainwater," he said.
Both towns have notified the Division of Water Quality as required by law, and staff members are reviewing the situation.
Corey Basinger, regional supervisor for the DWQ Surface Water Protection Section, said such overflows are common when flooding occurs.
The said the public should realize that the volumes reported as spilled wastewater are not entirely sewage.
"Basically what that was was an awful lot of rainwater and a little bit of sewer," he said. " ... Probably in excess of 90 percent of that flow they reported was actually just rainwater."
Municipalities, industries and others are required by law to provide public notices when a wastewater spill of 1,000 gallons or more reaches surface waters.
The Division of Water Quality has the power to issue a violation notice or a civil penalty based on its evaluation.
Feierabend said he did not expect that the division would issue fines or ask Beech Mountain to take any action because the failure was not related to neglect but due to the unusual flooding. He noted that Beech Mountain is currently working to update and renovate its water and sewer systems.
Basinger said the spills are unfortunate events that occur for a number of reasons statewide.
"It occurs all across the state of North Carolina," Basinger said. "It's unfortunate, and it is a scary thing to think about. ... It's not fun to have to sit there and just watch it occur and know you're helpless."