A major sewage spill in Charlotte shouldn't impact drinking water as far down as York County, though one environmental expert suggests folks stay out of the water for a while.
On Monday, Charlotte Water crews responded to a broken sewage pipe near Oakdale Road. The site is nearer Mountain Island Lake than Lake Wylie, but the spill happened where Long and McIntyre creeks meet. Water flows from that point into Lake Wylie, along its northern arm near the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
It's estimated that 15.4 million gallons of sewage escaped because of the leak, according to a tweet late Monday by Charlotte Water.
Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said he would recommend people stay out of that part of Wylie, at least, for a while.
"We definitely advise for people to stay out of the water for 24 to 48 hours at least," he said. "Bacteria thrives in turbid water."
The water is bound to have turbidity, the technical term for unclear or muddy, with extensive rain throughout the area Monday and Tuesday. Rain washes soil and debris into lakes and the river. In a way, the rain could help. The main way of reducing environmental risk following a spill is to let it disperse. But it's not a panacea.
"It is a concern any time you have that much sewage coming down, even with the rain to help wash it out," Perkins said.
As of Tuesday morning, Charlotte Water didn't have an estimate for how much sewage spilled. It wasn't the typical manhole or lift station overflow. A 30-inch sewage pipe, just 50 feet from the creek bank, burst open due to a fallen tree causing stream bank erosion. Charlotte Water tweeted it was due to Monday's storm. Later, the utility calculated the 15.4 million gallon figure.
Long Creek enters the lake near where Belmont draws its drinking water. Downstream, the city of Rock Hill draws drinking water for customers throughout most of York County.
Rock Hill tweeted its utilities crews would increase disinfection feed rate at the water intake and plant as precaution. The city is watching bacteria levels prior to the intake and "will adjust treatment if needed."
In a follow-up tweet, the city emphasized drinking water "remains safe" and no boil water advisories have been issued.
Perkins said he wouldn't expect water quality concerns as far south as Rock Hill, though he recommends anyone along the water be mindful of any unusual smells or debris on the surface.
"It certainly is (a concern) for Belmont," Perkins said. "For Rock Hill, my thought is they will be OK. But it is difficult to say for sure."
Part of that question involves just how much material spilled into the water. The Herald's news partner, WSOC, reported the spill could be "upward of a million gallons." Also, that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is monitoring the spill due to Rock Hill's intake downstream.
While spills often get blamed on old pipes, root damage or other factors that are at least somewhat preventable, Perkins said the downed tree and bank erosion is another matter.
"This isn't something where you can really fault Charlotte Water," Perkins said. "This is just one of those things that happens."