'No swimming' signs placed along North Toe River after sewage leak

No Swimming signs were placed along the North Toe River when tests showed elevated levels of coliform and fecal bacteria after a 20,000 sewage leak on Tuesday. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

"No Swimming" warning signs have been posted since Wednesday at Riverside Park in Spruce Pine.

The signs were placed along the North Toe River when tests showed elevated levels of coliform and fecal bacteria after a 20,000-gallon sewage leak on Tuesday.

The information comes from North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and Zan Price, assistant regional supervisor for water quality operations, based in Asheville.

"We notified North Carolina Public Health Preparedness and Response staff of this sanitary sewer leak," said Price in an email to News 13. "They are working with the county health department to potentially post a recreational swim advisory on the river."

Price added that the leak has been repaired by Spruce Pine staff.

Town Manager Richard Canipe said the leak was contained within two hours. Canipe confirmed water tests that came back Thursday showed the presence of bacteria.

"Until we get back results that show improvement, the signs will stay up," he said.

The contamination comes just days after dead fish washed up at the park. North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) confirmed a chemical leak from Quartz Corporation.

NCDEQ officials said Quartz Corp. will be cited and fined.

"It's been a tough week for the North Toe," said Price.

Meanwhile, with the latest contaminant of sewage water, health division officials for the Toe River in Mitchell County said people should keep themselves and their animals out of the water.

"I'm upset," local business owner Christy Thrift said. "Very upset."

Thrift and her husband run a river adventure company, Thrifty Adventures. They learned they could not run their bubble kayak tours on Wednesday afternoon when they came to Riverside Park to drop the kayaks and customers in at the river's entryway.

"This is prime season," Scott Thrift said. "This is when we're the busiest."

The leak was discovered Tuesday by town staff who walk the sewage lines, according to Town Manager Canipe.

"It was fixed within two hours," Canipe said.

The Rotary Club has had to cancel three of their fundraising duck races this weekend because volunteers cannot get in the river to place the rubber ducks in or pull them out. Their BBQ events will go on as scheduled, but organizers are disappointed the ducks will not be a part of their annual event.

Canipe said he personally drove six new water samples to a certified lab in Asheville and results should be back Friday. He said he is hopeful bacteria levels will fall back to normal, but said until results come back, the no swimming warning signs will stay in place.

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