Customers complaining about an outdoor water use ban in Lake Wylie have another ally speaking out against Blue Granite Water Co. — U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman.
Norman, who represents South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District including Lake Wylie, sent a letter Thursday to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control about the water company.
Blue Granite Water Co., formerly Carolina Water Service, announced a water use ban in May that could last until October.
The ban in Lake Wylie affects lawn watering, filling pools and other non-essential outdoor water uses.
The company cites peaks in water use and limited supply as reasons for the ban.
Norman asked S.C. DHEC to make sure Blue Granite is in compliance with state and federal laws, and decide whether the company should have expected the shortage and whether maintenance and notices to customers were handled correctly.
“In recent years, there have been multiple problems under this company’s watch, ranging from outages and line breaks to discoloration and boil water notices,” Norman said in a statement. “Now, Blue Granite has enacted stringent water conservation measures on its customers, citing ‘heightened demand’ and ‘water shortages’, while threatening those who do not comply with suspension of their service. To add insult to injury, the company is currently seeking another rate increase.”
Blue Granite this month told customers they could lose water service completely if they fail to comply with the ban.
“It is deeply worrying to me, that the sole provider of utilities could threaten to end providing such an essential utility as water if their demands are not met,” Norman said in his letter to DHEC.
Norman said an increase in population in the area shouldn’t cause a water shortage.
“We’ve known for decades what growth around Lake Wylie would look like,” he said in a statement. “Current demand should come as no surprise, and the infrastructure work needed to support that demand should not have caught anyone off-guard.”
Norman’s concerns are common to Lake Wylie customers. In the ongoing water and sewer rate increase case, almost 70 letters from residents, businesses and Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce protest already high rates, service interruptions and plans to raise rates more than 20%.
“Blue Granite Water Service has mismanaged our water service from the word ‘go,’” wrote resident Michelle Kane. “They are consistently requesting rate hikes and are unable to provide an adequate supply of water for their current customers. This is extremely concerning as our area is experiencing substantial growth.”
S.C. Sen. Wes Climer wrote to the South Carolina Public Service Commission asking for a public hearing in York County. The commission granted one, but a time and date haven’t been set.
Meanwhile, Blue Granite is working toward finding another option to get more water. Blue Granite buys its water from York County, which buys it from Rock Hill.
On June 13, Blue Granite applied with the Public Service Commission for approval of a wholesale water purchase agreement with the city of Charlotte to serve the Lake Wylie area. Charlotte draws its water from Mountain Island Lake, upstream of Wylie.
A 2018 franchise agreement with York County requires Blue Granite to supply a backup water connection. The wholesale agreement with Charlotte would provide it.
The agreement would provide up to 2 million gallons of water per day for the 4,442 customers in the Lake Wylie area.
In its filing with the service commission, Blue Granite argues the backup connection with Charlotte is the best way “to address concerns regarding interruptions or reductions in the wholesale water supply from York County.”
Otherwise, the company wrote, Blue Granite would have to get DHEC approval to install new wells or reactivate abandoned ones. That move would “take time and significant expense and unnecessary capital investment,” Blue Granite wrote.
Approving the agreement, the company wrote, won’t change current customer rates.
Both York County and Blue Granite have, throughout the water restrictions beginning just before Memorial Day, stated the water shortage is an issue of high demand in the Lake Wylie area and not the county’s ability to provide water.
“York County Water & Sewer Department has observed an increase in water usage,” county spokesperson Trish Startup said late last month. “However, York County has not encountered a water supply shortage nor is currently experiencing a shortage.”
At one point there was a valve left open on the York County system pulling water away from Blue Granite, company spokesperson Deb Clark said, but weeks after that issue was fixed the restrictions remained in place due to demand.
“The main issue has always been with the consumption,” Clark said late last month.