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Havelock sewer spill releases 87,000 gallons into Slocum Creek

City of Havelock
Slocum Creek has not met federal water quality guidelines for recreation for two months and is not recommended to swim in. The spill is the latest to reach the creek as Havelock continues state-mandated sewer upgrades.

A sewer line break in Havelock last week released more than 80,000 gallons of wastewater into Slocum Creek. The City says a contractor ran over a line Wednesday morning on Main Street.

It’s the fourth and largest spill this year for Havelock, and it's the latest in sewer complications for the city. Three spills in January and February released 29,000 gallons of wastewater. Last week’s spill was exactly three times that amount. Much of that wastewater made its way into Slocum Creek, a river that hasn’t met water quality standards for recreation for months. Samantha Krop is with Sound Rivers. She tests the water every Thursday.

“For the 8th week in a row, our samples on the Southwest prong at the wildlife boat ramp came up exceeding EPA health standards,” she said.

Sound Rivers tests the Southwest Prong for its Swim Guide report. It’s the only public access point in Havelock, and it’s popular with boaters and fishermen. However, it is not recommended to swim in.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has established health standards for skin-to-skin contact with surface waters that contain bacteria. When we say that a site has failed, what we mean is that the bacteria content in that water. Exceeds the EPA's Health guidance standard,” Krop said.

Krop says there can be negative health effects with swimming in water with high levels of bacteria.

“f you contact them and have an open wound, you can be looking at skin infections that can be serious if you ingest. Water getting that in your system can cause gastrointestinal issues. It can be problematic for folks who have immune disorders. And certainly, if you are eating fish that are living in high waters with high bacteria contamination, then that is a form of ingesting that as well. There are a lot of different health outcomes that can come from interacting skin to skin with that sort of water.”

Slocum Creek is historically a place that fails water quality standards. After two months of showing high levels of bacteria, Sound rivers has moved to test for human DNA in the water.

“That should help shed some light on whether this is a sewer issue, as we suspect it is just given the area, or whether we should be looking towards a different cause" Krop said. Sound Rivers took the sample two weeks ago.

Confusion still surrounds last week’s spill though. City manager Chris McGee told the New Bern Sun Journal that the water from the break ran clear and that there was no toilet paper seen in the discharge. The City of Havelock has not responded to requests for additional details, like if a water line broke in addition to a sewer line or if the spill was sampled for fecal matter.
On Thursday, Sound Rivers took a sample of an area a mile downstream of the spill on the East Prong and found no contamination.

How the break occurred, too, is light on details. In a press release, the city said a contractor ran over the line. The city has not responded to questions about what project the contractor was working on, what type of vehicle broke the line, or if the line was exposed.

The City of Havelock is under a Special Order by Consent with NCDEQ to bolster its sewer infrastructure and prevent sewer overflows. That Special order was signed in 2020 and requires the city to meet a certain timeline for repairs and upgrades. In its 2020-21 wastewater report, the most recent available, the city said most mandated repairs have been made, including replacing pipes along Speight Street and Shepard Street. The city completed a study to identify repairs from Hollywood Boulevard to the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The city has until January 2024 to finish all repairs.

NCDEQ told PRE an investigation of the spill is still ongoing and once its concluded, the agency will decided if enforcement action, like a fine, is needed.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.