HILTON HEAD, S.C. – Gloria Murray spent 20 years dealing with the consequences of a faulty septic system on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
She grew up on the island, which is often described as “paradise” by tourists, with its sandy beaches and gated golf resorts. But for many native islanders such as Murray, everyday life on Hilton Head was often more hellish than heavenly because of the septic situation.
“When it rained, it actually filled up the (septic) system,” she said. “The drainfield got clogged up at the end of the line, so there was no place for any of the water to go except come up on the ground or back up in my house.”
Murray told News21 that it was “disastrous” bringing up three children in that environment. Water would regularly gurgle up from the drain in the bathtub, while they sometimes could not flush the toilet for hours.
When it rained, the water wouldn’t drain properly, and the house would become flooded. The septic system had to be fixed “every three months” before the Murrays finally connected to the public sewer system in November 2016.
Murray told News21 that she had “religiously” lobbied Hilton Head’s Public Service District before they got the connection. “For 20 years, I have been checking to make sure when they came through here with the infrastructure that I would be first on their list,” she said.
Soil conditions on the island aren’t suitable for septic systems because of excessive drainage in some parts and a lack of drainage in others, said Pete Nardi, general manager of Hilton Head Public Service District.
The town has allocated more than $10 million to bring sewer lines to unserved areas, but that funding won’t cover all residents immediately.
Nardi is part of the Sewer Access For Everyone project, a collaborative effort with Hilton Head town and Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. The initiative aims to connect all island residents to sewer by 2020.
The foundation raised $3 million to hook up 1,000 low-income homes to public sewer. Residents can apply for grants to help cover the expense.
“There will still be some places where the town funding won’t be at play,” Nardi said. “That’s what we’re tackling with Project SAFE: using that charitable effort to get the low-moderate income homeowners connected.”
Mayor David Bennett said the aim of the project was to give everyone who desires public sewer the ability to connect to it.
“First, we are getting the infrastructure in place for individuals to connect to,” Bennett said. “Our hope is that everyone will connect to that. If that doesn’t happen, then I suspect the town council will come back and look around at a policy of requiring everyone to tap on to the sewer system.”
But Murray said the project will take a long time: “Four years is not a long time. But if you have (septic) issues, it seems like a lifetime.”
“These 30-year-old septic tanks, (they’re) going to become a hazard before too long,” she told News21. “It’s going to cause lots of illness and sickness if we don’t take care of it.”
However, there are still people who will not be eligible for the grant given the fact that Project SAFE is for “owner occupied” households, Nardi said.
Landscaper Mario Martinez has lived in the community for four years, and he has yet to be hooked up to public sewer.
“There’s a certain level on the water where it just stops working,” he said. “Nothing works until the (water) level goes down.”
“We just basically have to wait (to shower),” he added. “The toilets don’t flush. The water doesn’t go away. It just stays there.”
Martinez cannot connect his family to public sewer because he is renting his home on Darling Road. This means he cannot apply for a SAFE grant.
To see the full News21 report on “Troubled Water,” go to troubledwater.news21.com on Aug. 14.