Brown water dogging JWC

WINNSBORO – Bertha Goins lifted a miniature plastic bottle into the air, its brown contents sloshing inside.

Her message was crystal clear.

“Our water was off most of the day. When it came back on, from the Jenkinsville Water Company, this is what came out of the faucet,” Goins said at the Fairfield County Council meeting on Oct. 14.

“This has been going on for 20 years. Muddy water, contaminated water,” Goins continued. “When children came to drink this water, they don’t know to watch out for contaminants. They don’t know to watch out for bad water.”

Goins went on to say that in the past 20 years, boil water advisories had hardly ever been issued. She also said thousands of gallons of unmetered water have been sold.

Yet, she said, the S.C. Department of Environmental Control, or DHEC, hasn’t done enough to hold the JWC accountable.

“For some reason nobody’s concerned about thousands of people drinking contaminated water,” Goins said. “When this water comes through the line, it picks up everything.”

JWC president Greg Ginyard said in a phone interview with The Voice that he questioned whether the water Goins displayed at the council meeting actually came from her water lines.

“That water could’ve come from a creek or a barrel of water,” he said. 

Ginyard also said DHEC certified lab testers were brought in to test Goins’ water, but he said Goins ordered the testers off her property, saying they were trespassing.

“My thing is if your water is being tested by the lab that’s certified by DHEC, why would you stop them from testing the water?” Ginyard asked. “She told them that they were trespassing. She stopped it.”

In June, following reports of a boil water advisory after a water line break, Ginyard said Jenkinsville water is perfectly safe.

“There’s nothing wrong with our water,” Ginyard said. “The Jenkinsville Water Company is not giving anybody bad water. All our water is potable. We’re fine, we don’t have any problems.”

Public records The Voice obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that DHEC has issued nine separate Notices of Violation to the JWC in the past five years.

Infractions range from not following proper sampling procedures to contaminated water samples, documents show.

The most serious violation came to light in June when DHEC reported that Gross Alpha radiation levels exceeded the legal limit of 15 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) on two occasions – October 2018 to December 2018 (34 pCi/L) and July 2018 to September 2018 (23 pCi/L).

In follow-up measurements taken during the July 2019 to September 2019 monitoring period, DHEC recorded a level of 10 pCi/L, records show.

But because the average of the past four measurements came in at 17 pCi/L, mainly due to the 34 pCi/L reading in late 2018, the JWC was issued a new Notice of Violation.

DHEC previously found elevated levels of Gross Alpha as well as Radium 226/228 during several monitoring periods in 2013 and 2014, according to violation notices issued in August 2014 and November 2014.

Gross Alpha levels ranged between 18.1 pCi/L and 24.7 pCi/L.

Radium 226/228 levels ranged from 5.3 pCi/L to 11.6 pCi/L. The state’s legal limit for Radium 226/228 is 5.0 pCi/L.

Also in 2014, the JWC was cited after total coliform levels exceeded the state’s legal limit. DHEC issued another violation in January 2015 after the agency said the JWC failed to issue a public notice within 30 days of the violation, documents show.

In response to The Voice’s public record request, DHEC also provided redacted complaints from Jenkinsville water customers.

Two complaints describe water that smelled like sewage. One was filed in 2014; the other in 2016.

In July 2015, another customer complained that the water had been brown for the past three to four months.

“I told [the customer] that they might have been flushing the area and that would cause anything in the pipes to come through,” a DHEC official wrote in her report.

One customer called to complain that they thought the JWC improperly charged a reconnection fee.

“Although they didn’t turn the water off, the disconnection was already in the system,” the complaint says. “[The caller] feels as if they are embezzling money.”

Several other customers wondered whether the boil water advisory the JWC issued in May had been lifted after a water line break.

“The water was off 24 hours, it is now restored. Can you all check if the water is safe to drink now?” the complaint said. “Remember this is the same shady water company that has all kind of drama.”