At least 5,000 gallons of untreated sewage leaked into the marshes of Battery Creek near Shell Point over an undetermined period, the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority announced Tuesday.
A swim advisory cautioning people not to get into the water has been issued for Battery Creek and its tributaries between the Russell Bell Bridge in the town of Port Royal and U.S. 21 in Beaufort.
The leak, discovered Monday and repaired that afternoon by BJWSA, was from a sewer line that extends across the marsh on a small pier by Dowlingwood Drive, according to authority spokesman Matthew Brady. A specialty contractor has been brought in to make permanent repairs and line upgrades, Brady added.
The leak was discovered after a nearby resident noticed that the marsh grass in the area was discolored. BJWSA employees then found the leak, Brady said.
The cause of the leak was unclear Tuesday, although Brady said it is in an old pipe that was part of the town of Port Royal's municipal system before BJWSA took it over in the early 2000s. Exactly how long and how much the pipe leaked was also unknown Tuesday. The authority notifies the public when leaks reach 5,000 gallons, Brady said.
"Based on not knowing how long it was leaking, we determined that it was probably over 5,000 gallons, so that we could make the public aware and sample to test the water," he said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has been notified of the spill and is working with the authority, according to a BJWSA news release.
DHEC is collecting water samples to determine the effect of the spill on the waterways and is testing for coliform, Brady said. Sample sites are determined by DHEC, and results are expected Friday.
Brady said he did not know whether any shellfish harvesting restrictions had been enacted because of the leak. That was a matter for DHEC, which as of Tuesday afternoon, had not announced any new restrictions on the area.
Attempts Tuesday to reach a DHEC spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.