February 4, 2024

Amy Armstrong, Faith Rivers James, and Andrew Wunderley

Commentary: DHEC must pause septic tank permitting in SC coastal counties

Over the past year, our community has come to better understand the way outdated septic tank policies and inaction threaten our health and pollute our waterways. Despite these concerns and pending legal action by our organizations, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is moving forward with approving more detrimentally placed septic near our waterways, without undertaking the required coastal zone review.

Despite applying similar policies to almost every other type of state and federal environmental permit, DHEC staff do not review septic tank permits in our eight coastal counties for consistency with the state’s Coastal Zone Management Act. This important review requires DHEC to consider the unique conditions of the coastal zone, such as considering whether the permit site is near such important places a a wildlife refuge or the Intracoastal Waterway.

In real time, we are seeing a trifecta of existing septic tank pollution damaging coastal communities, worsening coastal flooding due to sea level rise and extreme weather and DHEC approving dozens of permits for large clusters of septic tanks in ecologically sensitive areas. As the population of South Carolina grows at an unprecedented rate, efforts to accommodate this growth must be balanced with consideration of impacts to our estuaries, from water quality and recreation to marine life and fisheries.


Amy Armstrong is the executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Faith Rivers James is the executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, and Andrew Wunderley is the executive director of Charleston Waterkeeper and serves as Charleston’s Waterkeeper.

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