“You could see feces floating around”: CFPUA investigates water quality in Pages Creek after neighbors complain of sewage

Raw sewage showing up in local waterway

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Environment management staff with Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is testing the water at Pages Creek after claims of wastewater contamination.

Paul Honour has lived on Shorepoint Drive in Wilmington for ten years. His backyard faces Pages Creek. He says he’s seen raw sewage in the water three times in the ten-year span, but nothing like what he saw Sunday.

“The water was purple," Honour said. "There was feces floating everywhere. People coming by in kayaks, jet skis, children playing in the ramp. Nobody had any idea what was going on until you smelled it and paid attention. Definitely raw sewage and quite a bit.”

After a sewer overflow on Oct. 13 caused by a construction mishap, CFPUA officials said an estimated 3,720 gallons of untreated wastewater entered a tributary of Pages Creek. Their Environmental Management Department began water sampling and three days later, tests showed the water quality was back to normal.

But Honour thinks what he saw in the creek was from that spill.

“We had the rain and it flushed it out,” said Honour. “If that’s the case, it should have been caught before it got here. There was at least a mile of opportunity before it came to our water to be captured.”

There have been several sewage overflows that have spilled into Pages Creek in the past few years.

Honour and his neighbors fish in that water. People kayak, swim, and ride jet skis. He says he’s fearful for their health. He also fears it will lower the property value of the area.

“I talked to a gentleman who was looking at property by a boat,” said Honour. “I said, ‘Don’t get your feet in the water.' He was on a jet ski. ‘That’s sewage.' And he turned around and said, ‘That’s all I need to know. I’m not buying anything in here.'”

CFPUA told WECT that when the main break was reported to them on the 13th, their crews immediately responded, shut down pump stations, and closed valves in the area to isolate the break.

“Crews diverted the wastewater into a ditch and performed pump-and-haul operations with a Vactor truck to vacuum up as much of the wastewater as possible,” said a spokesperson with CFPUA. “Once wastewater enters a waterway, options are more limited for cleaning it up. Any solids or debris such as toilet paper would be removed if crews see it, but using the Vactor truck on a creek could damage the waterway. We can also clean and sanitize the banks, but introducing anything into the water to kill bacteria would also be harmful to wildlife. In the three days after the spill, we performed testing and looked for debris in multiple areas of Pages Creek.”

EMD staffed walked the creek Monday and at first glance, nothing has been found to prove there is sewage there. There area will be checked again and WECT will be notified when test results come back.

“It’s going to rain and I’m sure some more will come,” Honour said. “It’ll do it again. [CFPUA] should be responsible for cleaning up our mess before it gets to our waterways.”

If customers see sewage, CFPUA asks that they immediately call their emergency hotline, day or night, at 910-332-6565.

Though the spill on Oct. 13 was caused by construction equipment striking a sewer main, many spills are caused by grease, wipes, and other materials being put into the sewer system. This past Saturday, CFPUA stopped an sewer spill overflow (SSO) in Ogden caused by a major blockage in the system.

“When crews cleared the blockage, they found that it contained things like rags and wipes, which should never be flushed down a toilet, and congealed grease or cooking oils,” said the CFPUA spokesperson. “The single biggest thing people can do to help prevent SSOs is to properly dispose of fats, oils, and grease, and never flush any product other than toilet paper. Also, always call us or 811 before beginning a construction project to locate buried pipes on your property.”

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