City upstream from Rock Hill has 53,000-gallon sewage spill

City officials are unconcerned about a waste spill in which several thousand gallons of raw sewage washed into the river upstream.

Lowell, N.C., announced a discharge of 53,000 gallons of untreated wastewater from its water treatment plant because of heavy rain earlier this week. The city sits on the south fork of the Catawba River, which flows south into Lake Wylie.

Sewage spilled into the river for about three hours during rainfall Monday, Lowell officials announced in a news release.

The spill could lead to an increased presence of bacteria downstream on the Catawba River and require extra treatment before it’s safe to drink, according to the Catawba Riverkeeper organization.

Rain this week has caused similar spills elsewhere in the region, but Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said the spill in Lowell is unique because of the amount of wastewater released.

“That’s a very large spill,” Perkins said. “We normally see numbers in the hundreds or low thousands, but 53,000 gallons?”

Heavy rainfall can overwhelm aging infrastructure in some places, and the Catawba Riverkeeper advises residents not to swim in rivers or streams within 24 to 48 hours after a rainstorm because of the threat of sewage overflow.

“This is a problem we’ve seen in Gaston County (N.C.), where there are a lot of smaller cities with their own individual systems,” Perkins said. “That’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be kept up.”

Katie Quinn, spokeswoman for the city of Rock Hill, said the city has not been notified of a potentially hazardous spill upstream as would usually be the case, and water department officials believe the city can filter out any waste that reaches downstream.

Water treatment facilities routinely test the water supply to ensure the water is safe to use. But if any waste is found in the water stream here, it could lead to additional treatment downstream.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome