As upstate communities continue to grapple with record growth, the Greenville County Council on Tuesday voted in favor of a second reading of an ordinance mandating environmental protections and development restrictions in the county.
The ordinance would require areas of protected land, known as riparian buffers, to be established along streams and bodies of water throughout the county. Riparian buffer zones in Greenville County are located at least 50 feet from the inland water edge and establish a separation between the water and nearby land to protect both water quality and riparian banks.
The ordinance would also limit new subdivision development in unzoned areas to a minimum lot size of 1.5 acres for the installation of septic systems.
The ordinance, which passed 9-3 with an amendment by Speaker Dan Tripp, is scheduled for third and final reading on Dec. 7. Councilman Ennis Fant said during Tuesday’s meeting that councilors have been working on the ordinance for about nine months. Since its inception, extensive discussions have taken place.
Various council members, members of environmental groups and developers suggested splitting the two topics into one ordinance. The majority supported riverbank buffer protection, but some disagreed on how to proceed with septic tank regulation.
Residents who support the creation of a riverside buffer zone wore blue and attended Tuesday’s rally to voice their support for the provisions of the ordinance.
Riparian buffers have the potential to protect water quality and riverbanks
Riparian buffers are bands of vegetation, such as grasses, shrubs, trees, and other plants, that protect a water body from the effects of adjacent land uses. If the ordinance passes third reading, it would require a minimum 50-foot buffer area along streams and waters of jurisdiction in Greenville County, with a 100-foot buffer area in areas with high drainage.
Implementing buffer protection in the northern states has been a long-standing effort by several environmental groups, including Save Our Saluda.
“Riparian buffer zones have many benefits. They help filter runoff of sediment and other pollutants that enter rivers,” said Melanie, president of Save Our Saluda. Luhrmann said. “Very importantly, they hold the land and prevent riverbanks and riparian banks from eroding and falling into rivers and downstream reservoirs and drinking water sources.”
Luhrman has been working on Greenville’s riparian protection since 2018, but said the effort started before she got involved. The riparian buffer push comes from the Reedy River Water Quality Group, which is comprised of local, national and federal partners working to improve water quality in the Reedy River.
Luhrmann said establishing a protective buffer is more cost-effective than trying to repair damaged riverbanks. Some projects will require more than $100,000 to repair small areas of the creek, she said.
“Costs range from $250 per linear foot per side to more than $1,000 per linear foot,” she said.
Damage to rivers can cause banks to erode and sediment to fall into the water.
The Reedy River Water Quality Group’s promotion of buffer materials is part of the Clean Water Act. This law would allow local stakeholders to address pollutants in their waters rather than following government-regulated pollutant cleanup plans.
Buffers not only reduce pressure on riverbanks, but also help filter excess nutrients, pesticides, and waste, such as nitrates and phosphorus, and prevent them from entering waterways.
Limited septic systems could curb unchecked development
Under the ordinance, new developments built in unzoned areas in Greenville County and containing 10 or more lots with septic systems must have a minimum lot size of 1.5 acres.
This part of the ordinance was pushed by the county, not environmental groups, and faced pushback from developers.
At an Oct. 2 workshop, Greenville County Department of Regional Planning and Development Director Rashida Jeffers Campbell said the county is struggling to allocate land appropriately as its population continues to grow. She said the county’s current land allocation method makes it difficult to plan for transportation, sewer and schools.
“Current development trends are characterized by inefficient land consumption, and we all know that land is a finite resource,” Jeffers-Campbell said.
In an effort to combat further pollution and slow development sprawl, Jeffers-Campbell said the purpose of the ordinance is to place limits on the use of septic systems in areas where no zoning laws currently exist. Ta. The ordinance would direct developers to areas where infrastructure already exists.
Jeffers-Campbell said the purpose of the ordinance is to limit the use of septic systems and restrict high-density development in areas where infrastructure cannot be easily expanded.
Despite requests from developers to reduce the minimum lot size, Greenville County decided to proceed with the minimum lot size of 1.5 acres. Jeffers Campbell said at the Oct. 24 planning meeting that reducing the minimum lot size any further would remove incentives for developers to focus on growth in areas with existing infrastructure.
How do septic systems affect the environment?
County officials are concerned that septic systems in many high-density areas could impact future development, but that septic systems that don’t function properly could pose environmental and health concerns. expressed.
When septic systems fail, residents can be exposed to nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. They can also contaminate surface water if they are near bodies of water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Erica Hollis, director of water purification at Upstate Forever, said most people don’t think about their septic system until it stops working.
Upstate Forever is not involved in the septic portion of the ordinance, but is working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to help homeowners in upstate counties repair their septic systems. Over 10 years, Upstate Forever grants have helped more than 130 homeowners repair their septic tanks, Hollis said.
In homes with septic systems, wastewater flows into underground tanks, where the water is separated from solids and sinks to the bottom, while oils and greases float to the top. The water then leaves the tank and moves into an area of the soil called the drainage field, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Once it stops working, you can’t flush the toilet, you can’t take a shower, you can’t do laundry or dishes, it’s definitely a crisis situation,” Hollis said, adding that homeowners He added that there are trends such as: Once you reach your backup, call Upstate Forever. “Not being able to live in a home with a functioning sewage treatment system creates serious quality of life issues.”
Nine out of 10 repairs Upstate Forever handles are drains that aren’t working properly, Hollis said. Homeowners often don’t know where their drains are, especially in older homes where a septic tank is already installed. Hollis said residents who don’t know where the drains are can damage them by driving too close to them or parking over them.
Improper use of drainfields can damage septic systems, but few records exist to help homeowners know where their drainfields are, nor do they require inspections or allow owners to There are also no state laws that dictate how often septic tanks should be pumped. Repairing a damaged septic system can also be costly for homeowners. The average cost to repair a drain is currently $6,500, Hollis said.
The ordinance must pass a third reading before any development or water protection can take place. The board meeting is scheduled to be held on December 7th next year.
Sarah Swetlik covers climate change and environmental issues in upstate South Carolina for The Greenville News. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or @sarahgswetlik on X..