The Regulatory Revolution

The Plum Island Pumping StationTrouble in the Charleston Harbor
In the early 1960s, in the midst of growing public concern about water pollution, CPW took ownership of the city sewer system. Decades of dumping raw sewage and industrial waste into the Charleston Harbor culminated in massive fish kills that gained much publicity. Water quality issues in other parts of the country were also gaining attention, and public pressure forced state and national lawmakers to act. In 1963, state lawmakers passed what was dubbed the “Charleston Harbor pollution law,” requiring municipalities to implement wastewater treatment by 1970. Two years later, Congress followed suit, passing the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, collectively known as the Clean Water Act. The law provided specific regulatory objectives and a strong enforcement program to protect the quality of the nation’s waterways.

Charleston's First Wastewater Treatment Plant
In 1968, CPW began construction of the Plum Island Water Pollution Control Plant and a series of deep tunnels to intercept sewage discharges to the Harbor. These tunnels carried wastewater to the new plant for treatment. Completed in 1971, the Plum Island plant initially provided primary treatment for up to 18 million gallons per day (mgd). In 1984, the plant was upgraded to provide secondary biological treatment. In 1990 the plant capacity was expanded to 27 mgd, and five years later, after an internal engineering study, the facility was up-rated to its current capacity of 36 mgd.

News and Courier ArticleThe Safe Drinking Water Act & the Lead and Copper Rule
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which put the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of protecting the public water supply by regulating water utilities. The EPA established the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs), which include standards for water treatment techniques and maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for compounds in drinking water.

In 1992, just before EPA promulgated the Lead and Copper Rule, CPW gained national attention for having one of the highest lead levels in the nation. A high concentration of historic homes and buildings—many served by lead pipes installed in the late 1800s—helped CPW secure this unfortunate distinction. Research conducted by CPW staff showed that adding orthophosphate to the treated water would form a molecular barrier inside water lines, effectively preventing lead from leaching into the water. The plan proved successful, and by 1994, CPW’s lead levels dropped from 211 parts per billion (ppb) to 4 ppb, well below the 15 ppb action level.

Dedication of Charleston Water Systems Main OfficeCPW Outgrows Historic George Street office
In 1985, CPW’s administrative support staff finally outgrew its office space in the historic building at 14 George Street, and moved into a brand new three-story building on St. Philip Street. The George Street office was renovated and now houses the Piccolo-Spoleto offices. The new office building was dedicated to Mr. John R. Bettis, CPW Manager from 1954 to 1985.

Several years later, CPW’s operations staff moved from a building on Milford Street to the present location off Hobson Avenue on the old Navy Base.

The Daniel Island Wastewater Treatment Plant
Following the City’s annexation of Daniel Island in 1990, CPW built the 250,000-gallon-per-day Daniel Island Wastewater Treatment Plant to service the fast growing area. To accommodate continued growth on Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula, the treatment plant has since been expanded to 500,000 gallons per day.

Certificate of RegistrationEnvironmental Management & ISO 14001 Certification
In 1999, CPW became the first combined water and wastewater utility in the nation to earn certification of its Environmental Management System (EMS) under ISO 14001, an international standard for environmental management. The EMS focuses on continual improvement through managing environmental impacts and complying with all regulatory standards.

Replacing the Sewer Tunnel System
In 2000, CPW began a multi-phased, multi-million-dollar project to replace the sewer tunnel system built in 1970 to carry wastewater to the Plum Island Plant. Inspections revealed serious damage to the tunnel caused by corrosion, and CPW began planning for the tunnel’s replacement, which is expected to be complete by 2010.

CPW Changes Name to Charleston Water System
In 2005, in an effort to distinguish CPW’s services from other area public agencies, CPW adopted the name Charleston Water System.