On Tues. Feb. 27, oyster beds located in marsh near the headwaters of the Stono River were closed for harvesting. According to the Post & Courier, “at least 2 million gallons of raw sewage, and possibly much more, flowed into marsh near the headwaters … because of a broken pipe that is part of the Hollywood sewer system.”

Health officials have recalled oysters harvested in the affected area from Charleston Harbor south to the North Edisto River between Mon. Feb. 19 and Wed. Feb 28.

Charleston-based shellfish dealer and operator of two oyster farms in Charleston County, Seaborn Oyster Co., had to close down one of their farms, situated along the North Edisto River, for the mandated 21 days as a result of the spill.

Owner of Seaborn Oyster Co. Cyrus Buffum said in a press release, “We’re fortunate to have oyster beds outside of the closure zone, but others weren’t as lucky. Because of the neglect of our aging wastewater infrastructure, countless watermen are out of work and half of the county’s waterways are now unfit for public use. That’s not right.”

The Clean Water Act of 1972 set federal standards to regulate pollutant discharges into waterways. But today, nearly half a century later, that aging infrastructure needs to be addressed, says Buffum.

This is not the first spill to happen in the area. According to the P&C, 12 years ago, Hollywood was fined “$24,000 and put under a consent order by DHEC after 11 spills in the prior two years released more than 340,000 gallons of sewage into the environment.”

Buffum said that as the Lowcountry continues to grow, “we cannot expect nearly 50-year old infrastructure to effectively safeguard our waterways.” He goes on to urge that “municipalities must take a more proactive approach to protect our region’s greatest asset.”

Buffum, the founder and former executive director of nonprofit Charleston Waterkeeper, said population influx isn’t the only problem. With an increase in intense hurricane season weather, the likelihood of infrastructure failing increases.  According to DHEC, last year’s heavy rains from Hurricane Irma caused an infiltration of stormwater, with over 500,000 gallons of sewage spilling into tri-county waters, forcing the closure of shellfish beds.

Buffum believes that the tri-county area must first start with an in-depth analysis of all wastewater infrastructure, an assessment that should show “precisely where and to what extent investments are needed.”

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