Homeowners in a south Charlotte neighborhood along Lake Wylie are voicing concerns about a wastewater treatment plant in their neighborhood operated by a for-profit utility.
Residents in the RiverPointe neighborhood called On Your Side Investigates with concerns about a pipe that is discharging treated wastewater into the lake.
Low lake levels brought on by this summer's drought exposed the pipe, which was sticking out of the sand in several spots.
The pipe is in the center of a cove that hosts several docks for residents whose property backs up to the water.
"There's a real safety hazard for the pipe and the way it's installed into the lake," neighbor Bob Zito said. "Some of our neighbors have done damage to their boats."
A spokesman for Carolina Water Service, Inc. of North Carolina, the utility that owns the wastewater treatment plant and the pipe, told On Your Side Investigates it has marked the pipe with a temporary buoy and is working to install a permanent buoy. Company spokesman Tom Oakley also said the company is working to re-bury the pipe underground.
In addition to the physical hazard the exposed pipe poses to boats, Zito and his neighbors are also worried about the wastewater being discharged from the pipe.
"My own grandchildren, I fear, swimming off my dock are ingesting foul water," Zito said.
But Zito and other watchdog groups are pointing to samples taken at other times as proof something needs to be done.
One of the people concerned about the wastewater being discharged is Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins.
"There are a lot of problem here. Either this needs to get fixed or they need to stop discharging," Perkins said. "This facility had the third most violations of about 500 discharge permits. Something needs to be done."
The utility's permit to discharge treated wastewater into Lake Wylie is currently expired and up for renewal with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, which was recently renamed from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A majority of the violations for which Carolina Water Services, Inc. of North Carolina has been cited related to excess chlorine levels.
But the violations most concerning to Perkins are related to elevated levels of fecal coliform.
Perkins said people can become sick if they ingest the bacteria and it can get into open cuts and sores, causing infections.
"[DEQ] can issue a notice of violation but what we really need to see is a change at the facility itself to make sure the sewage that gets treated truly gets treated to a point where it's safe to discharge on a regular basis," Perkins said.
Records provided by DEQ shoe the company has been cited for exceeding fecal coliform limits nine times in the past five years, including one violation in December 2011 when the fecal coliform levels were more than 900 percent above daily limits.
Oakley, the utility spokesman, said the water discharged from the wastewater treatment facility is clean.
"The recycled water flowing through the pipe has been fully treated at our wastewater treatment facility and is regularly tested to ensure that it meets applicable regulatory requirements," Oakley said.
A spokeswoman with DEQ said the wastewater treatment system has also switched from a chlorine system to a UV-based system to address the increased chlorine levels repeatedly found in samples of the discharged wastewater.
Bob Zito, the RiverPointe resident, said he and his neighbors hope something is done soon to further fix the pipe and improve the quality of the water being discharged into their backyards.
"It not only affects our community," Zito said. "It affects the entire lake."