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Septic Tanks in South Carolina

Folly Beach - Pilot Septic Tank Management Program

Folly Beach sits about 10 feet above sea level in Charleston County. About 2,000 people reside year-round on the 12.3-square-mile barrier island, and each summer, the beach draws tens of thousands of visitors.

In 1998, the town’s central commercial district and one Folly Beach subdivision were served by a central sewer system. The remaining 1,500 homes were served by septic tanks.

Hoping to create a model septic system inspection program that other coastal towns could follow, DHEC’s Office of Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) co-sponsored a two-year pilot project with Folly Beach in the late 1990s.

Septic Tank Management as Tool for Limiting Growth

Before Hurricane Hugo destroyed much of the Carolina coast in 1989, many of the homes in Folly Beach were small – around 1,000 square feet, and built on half-lots. Following the hurricane, many property owners rebuilt much larger homes.

City leaders and planners wanted the town to retain its small-town, cottage feel, and they wanted to limit the high density development that likely would follow expansion of the town’s public sewer system. They knew that to reduce the need for central sewer service, the town’s existing septic systems would have to be managed properly. So the city matched DHEC’s $10,000 grant to implement a pilot program.

The Folly Beach project steering committee used surveys, public meetings and workshops, the town’s cable access channel, and local news outlets to engage citizens and promote the septic tank management program. Forty households volunteered to have their septic tanks inspected — at no cost to them.

Image of a team of workers.Team Effort

DHEC staff trained a private waste management company how to thoroughly inspect septic systems. A Folly Beach Public Works Department crew located and unearthed each home’s septic tank top in advance of the inspectors’ arrival.

Inspectors opened each tank, measured and, if necessary, pumped the contents, then, assisted by DHEC staff, inspected the tank and drainfield.

Eventually, the team inspected all 40 systems and documented their work with photographs and digital video. They then worked with the steering committee to prioritize needed repairs and upgrades into three categories — high (A), medium (B), and low (C).


  • Seven systems (18 percent of the total inspected) were in need of total system upgrades. Among them – homemade septic systems, brick and bottomless septic tanks, and systems with drainfields that had been covered over by home renovations.
  • Many of the A- and B-ranked systems (35 percent of the total) had broken or missing inlet and outlet tees, cracked lids and even cracked septic tanks.
  • The main problem seen in the C-rated systems (44 percent of the total) were that they were missing protective barriers.
  • Several of the septic systems (3 percent) could not be inspected because the tanks were completely inaccessible.

Folly Beach and DHEC sent each property owner their inspection report, a record-keeping folder and fact sheet, and a letter that recommended repairs or offered general maintenance advice.

Folly Beach offered to split the cost of replacing the seven broken septic systems with the homeowners. Four of the homeowners accepted this offer and are now living with fully functioning septic systems that, with good maintenance, could last them 30 years or longer.

For additional information, contact: (803) 898-4329 Fax (803) 898-4200