On Thursday February 20, we set out in Lady C to observe two active Army Corps dredging projects in the Charleston Harbor area (more about dredging activity here).  A dense fog forced us to alter our float plan, and instead we stayed close to shore patrolling the lower Cooper River, New Market Creek, and Shipyard Creek.

Our waterways have a rich history far beyond the moment in time we patrol.  Oftentimes, as is the case with New Market and Shipyard Creeks, historical land uses in the surrounding watershed impact the water and habitat quality existing today.

In 1772 a powder magazine was built on Shipyard Creek then safely outside the city of Charleston.  Around the same time, Captain Cochran’s Shipyard, one of 14 colonial period shipyards, built vessels to engage in trade with Europe. In the early 1900s the A.E. Tuxbury Lumber Mill operated on the banks of Shipyard Creek. In 1941 Pittsburgh Metallurgical Company constructed a ferrochromium alloy smelting plant on Shipyard Creek that operated until 1998.  The plant polluted the groundwater, sediment, and soil around the creek with nickel, zinc, and chromium.  In 2000 the site was declared an EPA “Superfund” site and scheduled for clean up.  Clean up was completed in 2006 and the EPA considers the site “protective of human health and environment.”  However, ongoing research by DHEC and DNR rates Shipyard Creek’s habitat quality as “fair” due in part to high contaminate levels in the creek’s sediment.

By the early 1820s the Shipyard Creek powder magazine was in disrepair.  A new series of magazines, designed by famed architect Robert Mills, were constructed about 1.5 miles South along New Market Creek.  In 1911 the South Carolina General Assembly permitted the Holston Corporation to divert a portion of New Market Creek and construct a pier for importing coal.  The Holston property was later converted to a landfill and today an estimated 19 feet of trash is buried in the Holston and Romney Street landfills.  Sometime around 1920, the Commissioners of Public Works (now Charleston Water System) constructed an outfall to discharge untreated sewage into New Market Creek. The outfall was used until the Plum Island Treatment Plant (watch the excellent video tour) was completed in the early 1970s.  In the late 1980s local residents alerted DHEC water quality problems in New Market Creek. Investigation by DHEC and the City of Charleston revealed high bacteria levels and several improper connections between sanitary sewers and the City’s stormwater drainage system that discharged to New Market Creek.  After fixing the improper connections bacteria levels declined but were still considered high.

Today New Market and Shipyard creeks are surrounded by high density urban and industrial development. This especially evident in Shipyard Creek, almost no marsh or natural vegetation is present along its western shore. At time we visited, the Kinder Morgan bulk terminal near the mouth of Shipyard Creek was inactive. New Market Creek is still fringed by marsh, however, its entire northern bank is bordered by the Romney Street Landfill. We observed a large amount of trash at the headwaters of small tributary to New Market Creek near the Romney Street recycling convenience center. The trash was exclusively plastic bottles and bags.

The following map highlights what we observed during our patrol (it’s best viewed using the View in Larger Map link). Click the thumb tacks for pictures.

View February 2014 Patrol in a larger map

We reached out to several key community partners regarding the trash observed near the Romney Street convenience center.  We’ll provide an update here as soon as new information is available.  In the meantime, we are planning for our March patrol and will have the float plan finalized soon. Follow the action on Facebook and Twitter.

A quick update on the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program: on Wednesday, October 30, we pulled our last sample of the 2013 sampling season (don’t worry we’re already thinking about 2014).  Our goal for the season was to test 12 sites every week from July 10 through October 30 and publish the data so you could make informed choices about where you swim, SUP, kayak, and sail.  So, how did we do?  Check out 2013 by the numbers:

  • 12 sample sites tested weekly
  • 17 weeks of sample collection
  • 204 samples available for collection
  • 199 samples actually collected
  • 97.5% completeness rate
  • 3 samples missed because of Oct. 2013 Federal Government shutdown
  • 2 samples missed because of bad weather
  • 1014 MPN/100 mL highest sample tested
  • <10 MPN/100 mL lowest sample tested
  • 1020 lines of data generated

We enjoyed sharing the sample runs with you and hope you enjoyed easy access to the data via our website, Facebook, Twitter, and Swim Guide.

Next Steps

Now that 2013’s data is generated, we’ll begin the data validation process.  Data validation is a line-by-line examination of our dataset to ensure we’ve complied with our Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) and will determine the quality of our dataset.  After the dataset is validated it will be ready for analysis.

In early 2014 Charleston Waterkeeper will publish a water quality scorecard.  The scorecard will look back at the 2013 season’s data and examine how our sites did compared to South Carolina’s standard for safe water-based recreational activity.  The scorecard will also outline practices and activities you can engage in to protect and improve local water quality.  Stay tuned in January for more on our recreational water quality scorecard!

Another important data user is DHEC’s Water Quality Monitoring and Modeling Section.  DHEC will use our dataset to determine which waterways are impaired and which are healthy for its 2014 303(d) list.  This is an important designation for our local waterways because it determines where DHEC spends time, money, and resources developing and implementing waterway restoration plans.

Thank You!

A hugh thank you to our partners: the College of Charleston’s Masters of Environmental Studies Program, the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, and the City Marina.  We could not have done this work without you!

We are looking forward to planning for 2014 sampling season in January.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer Field Investigator and are available Wednesday mornings (May to October) please get in touch with us at info [at] charlestonwaterkeeper [dot] org.  In the meantime, learn more about the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program and see data from past sample runs [here].

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is asking citizens to be on the lookout for illegal dumping of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to manholes and grease traps.  Citizens are urged to report suspicious activity to Crime Stoppers at 1 (864) 232-7463 or 911.  To report any other tips or information that may help identify those responsible for the illegal dumping, please contact DHEC’s 24-hour emergency response line at 1 (888) 481-0125.

In August three Upstate sewage treatment plants detected PCBs in their collection and treatment systems. After an investigation, DHEC, EPA, and the treatment plants determined PCBs were illegally discharged into area sewers via manholes and a restaurant grease trap.  This week, PCBs were found in Columbia area sewers and traced to another restaurant grease trap.  A grease trap collects and separates restaurant grease to prevent it from clogging sewers.

PCBs were banned by Congress in 1979 because they build up in the environment and cause adverse health effects in wildlife and humans.  PCBs are not commonly found in wastewater, sewers, or sewage treatment plants which discharge treated wastewater to local waterways.  Once inside a sewage treatment plant, PCBs are known to absorb into the sludge that settles out from wastewater during the treatment process.  According to DHEC, despite the illegal dumping, there has been no known discharge of PCBs to local waterways in the Upstate or the Columbia area.

Yesterday DHEC issued an emergency regulation requiring sewage treatment plants to test their sludge for the presence of PCBs.  The regulation also prohibits the land application of sludge with quantifiable levels of PCBs.

Charleston Waterkeeper applauds DHEC, EPA, and our local wastewater treatment authorities for working together to catch the perpetrators.  Let’s all pitch in and help stop this illegal activity before it impacts us here. If you see something suspicious near a manhole or grease trap, contact the Crime Stopper number above.  If you own, manage, or work at or near a restaurant with a grease trap, be extra vigilant.


More information:

DHEC’s September 25, 2013 press release

The State: “Industrial Poisons Found in Columbia Area Sewers

The State: “Columbia Warns of Illegal Dumping at Eatery Sites

Sewer Manhole:

Grease Trap:

The below article is a guest post from the College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club. Charleston Waterkeeper is incredibly proud of the many students involved with getting this club off the ground; we are eager to engage this passionate group of water warriors. The College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club will allow students an opportunity to become more aware of issues impacting Charleston’s waterways; it will also provide an outlet whereby the campus community can help play an active role in protecting Charleston’s waterways.

At the start of the 2013 spring semester, six College of Charleston students came together to establish the very first internationally recognized Waterkeeper Club on a college campus. As the club began to promote itself, eager students signed up to get involved with the club’s future activities.

On Saturday, September 21, 2013, six months after the College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club was established, the club hosted its first outing–a beach cleanup on Morris Island. The cleanup, sponsored by Teva as part of their “A pair for a foot” campaign, provided the club an opportunity to work with Charleston Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, exposing nearly 30 students to the mission of the Waterkeeper movement.

Members from the College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club, bound for Morris Island, set sail at 9 AM aboard the Charleston Explorer. In honor of the last day of summer and International Coastal Cleanup Day, it only felt appropriate to leave Morris Island the way we found it in May–clean and free of trash.

Leaving from the Maritime Center, we made our way across Charleston Harbor, passing beautiful views of the Ravenel Bridge and Fort Sumter, and eventually arrived to Morris Island around 10 AM. This was the first time many club members had been out to the island. We arrived to Cummings Point in hopes of returning with trash and a feeling of accomplishment. We split into groups of two, collected our data cards, our gloves, two bags (one for trash and one for recycling), and walked the north end of the island. Along with the expected bottle caps, countless pieces of styrofoam and tiny remnants of plastics, we also encountered a remarkable amount of light bulbs, a massive metal signpost, cleaning products, and a handful of tar balls.


We covered nearly a mile’s worth of linear beach along the north end of Morris Island; after consolidating all trash and recyclables, we were left with four full bags of trash, one full bag of recyclables, and a number of awkwardly shaped items that would not fit into the bags.

We were honored to see the swells of volunteers show up to the docks to help us in our efforts. (Most college students rarely see the sun prior to 8 AM, so the attendance we witnessed was truly inspiring.) With the help of our volunteers, we completed a super successful beach sweep! It was a fantastic way to kick off the newly established College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club.

Our ongoing efforts are continually dedicated to our late friend Barker West, who we miss dearly. The day was no exception–we wore Barker’s initials over our hearts during the cleanup. His spirit and attitude will never be forgotten, and his efforts to help protect Charleston’s waterways will forever be the cornerstone of our club’s ambitions.

We’d like to extend a huge amount of gratitude to Teva for sponsoring the cleanup. Also, a heartfelt thank you to Maritime Center, Charleston Explorer, Starbucks, SC DNR, Sea Grant Consortium, Keep Charleston Beautiful, Cul2vate, and the team at Charleston Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance for helping to make the day a success.

We’re looking forward to a successful school year!

- College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club

A while back, we posted a guest blog post about the Upper Inlet Creek Project written by Jillian Phillips. The project is a collaboration between Charleston Waterkeeper, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, the College of Charleston’s Masters of Environmental Studies Program, and Town of Mount Pleasant. View photo albums from the project’s sample runs here: March, April, May, June, July, August). Jill is a graduate student in MES Program and laboratory analyst at Mount Pleasant Waterworks. Here’s the latest update on the project from Jill:

The Upper Inlet Creek Project is well underway and we’re about halfway through our sampling. Generally speaking, fecal coliform test results show an increase in bacteria density after rain events, however enterococci results have been consistently low. We’ve also been running an optical brightener analysis as a proxy for the presence or absence of human bacteria contamination. So far these results show low concentrations of optical brighteners at all sampling locations. These are important considerations moving forward because they suggest stormwater as a possible source of bacteria contamination in Upper Inlet Creek.

During sampling events we’ve observed a variety of wildlife including egrets, herons, pelicans, and dolphins. Based on these observations we’ve decided to calculate a maximum daily load of fecal bacteria to Upper Inlet Creek. The loading estimate will be calculated using the volume of water present in Upper Inlet Creek and the average fecal matter bacteria densities of different types of wildlife (warm-blooded and cold-blooded).  This analysis will help provide insight into what bacteria results we should expect versus what we actually observed. This work will help refine our assumptions about the possible sources of impairment.

On each trip to Upper Inlet Creek we’ve also observed a variety of recreational activity including boating, fishing, and kayaking. The the importance Upper Inlet Creek’s water quality is evident from its frequent use by humans and wildlife. We’re looking forward to completing the data collection portion of the project and moving forward to the data analysis phase. We hope to suggest some possible remediation strategies to reduce fecal bacteria loadings to Upper Inlet Creek.



A big thanks to Jill for the update! Charleston Waterkeeper is proud to be a part of this collaboration and is looking forward to seeing the project come to fruition. In the meantime, stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates.

This weekend we all suffered a terrible loss with the passing of Franklin Barker West, a dear friend of Charleston Waterkeeper.

Barker, 18, was a sophomore at the College of Charleston and was an incredible supporter of Charleston Waterkeeper’s mission. He was an active volunteer, assisting most recently with last year’s Great Oyster Point Runoff and this year’s Water Ball. With a permanent smile on his face, Barker was always first to offer his time to help others.

We are all saddened by the news of Barker’s death and are reminded of how delicate life can be. Helping Charleston Waterkeeper was always a highlight for Barker; his positive energy and optimistic outlook serve as an inspiration for us all. We are so grateful that Barker came into our lives, and we will do what we can to honor his life and great spirit through our continued work.

We’ll miss you, Barker. Thanks for leaving such an indelible mark on this place and in all of our hearts.

- The Waterkeeper Team

Thursday August 29 was a big day for us here at Charleston Waterkeeper with the christening of our pumpout boat the No. 2 (because it’s our second work boat of course!). The No. 2 will help Charleston Waterkeeper prevent sewage discharges to our local waterways by offering boaters a cheap, convenient, and environmentally responsible way to dispose of marine sewage.  We were honored to have Reverend John Zahl, Associate Priest at Grace Episcopal Church conduct the ceremony.  Check out the video our friends over at Cobble Hill put together to commemorate the day:

Christening of No. 2 from Charleston Waterkeeper on Vimeo.

The No. 2 is 19 foot custom made North Coast Pump Kleen built by Marine Boatbuiders Company of Warwick, Rhode Island. She’s a pure work boat capable of pumping 40 gallons of sewage per minute and has maximum holding tank capacity is 230 gallons. Perviously, she severed the Bristol Marina near the Ashley River Memorial Bridges. As part of our Mobile Pumpout Program she’ll concentrate her service at marinas and other areas not served by a pumpout boat and/or those with no shore side pumpout facility.

With over 65,000 registered boaters in the tri-county area, improper disposal of sewage from marine sanitation devices (heads) are one source of the fecal contamination plaguing our local waterways.

This past October, after analyzing available water quality data, we determined half of the impaired waterways in our watershed are impaired by high levels of fecal bacteria. We wrote about the research in previous blog post here. In many cases, waterway restoration plans will not be developed for several years. That’s why we decided to take action.

Over the past year we worked to secure the funding and develop the partnerships necessary to support the operation of our Mobile Pumpout Program. A key piece to that puzzle is our partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Clean Vessel Act Program which helps to defray a portion of the cost of operating and maintaining the No. 2 as a pumpout boat. Additional support from the Bishop Family Foundation, the Sauls Family Foundation, Charleston City Marina and Bristol Marina, Limelight Custom Sign Company, and our Board of Directors and Junior Council made the program a reality.

We are currently focused on outreach to raise awareness about the Mobile Pumpout Program.  We’re also working to finalize the internal mechanisms necessary to efficiently administer the program on a day-to-day basis.  Be sure to stay tuned to our website and Facebook and Twitter accounts, we’ll share the contact information for scheduling a pumpout when it’s finalized.  We’ll also be sure to document and share the Mobile Pumpout Program’s first pumpouts with you.

In the name of clean water, pump it, don’t dump it!

Since March, Charleston Waterkeeper has worked with its CPA and legal counsel to complete all documentation required to seek reinstatement of our 501(c)(3) status.

On Wednesday, August 7, Charleston Waterkeeper submitted all filings requested by the IRS and the State of South Carolina. As a result, Charleston Waterkeeper is a charitable organization in compliance with the registration requirement of the “South Carolina Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act.”

We remain confident we are taking all necessary actions to remedy the oversight that led to the revocation of our tax-exempt status. Until then, all donations to Charleston Waterkeeper continue to be tax-deductible under our fiscal sponsor, the Waterkeeper Alliance.

During this process, we have continued to focus on our work designed to protect your right to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. For example on July 10, we launched our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program which tests the “swimmability” of local hotspots for swimming, SUPing, kayaking, and sailing. Learn more about the program and view our weekly data results here.

We are thankful for the many professionals and advisors within the nonprofit sector who have helped us through this issue. We appreciate and value your continued patience and support.



A few months back we wrote about our work to strengthen the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Revision for the Charleston Harbor, Cooper, Ashley, and Wando Rivers developed by DHEC.  This work is part of our Permit Watchdog Program.  Check out the details of that effort here.

A TMDL is simply a plan to restore the quality of a waterway that does not meet one or more of its water quality standards.  Currently, portions of the Charleston Harbor, Cooper, Ashley, and Wando Rivers do not meet their water quality standard for dissolved oxygen (DO).  Abnormally low levels of DO are known impair the ability of aquatic life to survive and reproduce.  This, in turn, impacts our right to fishable and harvestable waterways.

In late May, DHEC placed two draft permits on public notice: BP Amoco Chemicals and DAK Americas, LLC.  Because both discharge to the Cooper River, their draft permits included revised limits for Ultimate Oxygen Demand (UOD) based on the TMDL.  UOD represents the amount of organic material in a wastewater discharge that can reduce natural in-stream levels of DO.

After researching the draft permits, TMDL, and available data, we grew concerned about the proposed UOD limits in BP and DAK Americas’ draft permits.  The Clean Water Act prohibits “backsliding” or weakening permit limits except in certain limited circumstances.  However, both draft permits written by DHEC propose UOD limits roughly 2 times higher than current limits.

The proposed UOD limits are derived from research and water quality modeling work completed to develop a UOD cap for the TMDL.  That cap is the upper limit of the amount of UOD that can be discharged without lowering in-stream DO levels below state water quality standards.  Accordingly, the proposed limits represent the maximum amount of UOD that can be discharged by BP and DAK Americas without lowering in-stream levels of DO below water quality standards.

We are particularly concerned about the limits proposed by DHEC because both BP and DAK Americas have demonstrated the ability to regularly comply with their current more strict permit limits.  For example, Chart 1 shows BP’s compliance history for its monthly average UOD permit limit between July 2009 and December 2012:

DAK Americas has achieved a similar compliance history.  Chart 2 shows DAK’s compliance history for its monthly average UOD permit limit between June 2008 and April 2013:

BP and DAK Americas should be commended for their ability to achieve routine compliance with their UOD limits.  Accordingly, allowing UOD discharges by BP and DAK Americas up to the maximum is unnecessary.

In our comment letter, we requested DHEC perform an “antibacksliding” analysis and explain why weakening BP and DAK Americas’ permit limits is permissible under the Clean Water Act.  We also requested DHEC justify why weaker permit limits are needed considering BP and DAK Americas’ routine compliance with their current more strict permit limits.

We are currently awaiting DHEC’s response.  Once received, we’ll throughly consider the justification provided and determine our next steps.  This work is part of our Permit Watchdog Program which regularly reviews the NPDES discharge permits in our watershed.  The program is designed to provide a system of checks and balances on DHEC and permit holders.

DHEC takes public comments seriously, especially when they come from individuals like you who regularly use the waterway where a discharge is located.  If you fish, SUP, kayak, or boat our local waterways, stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook accounts.  We’ll be sure to let you know when the next opportunity to comment arises.  If you’re interested, we’re also available to help you through the public commenting process.

We did it!

This morning was the first official sample run under our South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) approved Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP).  The QAPP governs data generation for our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program which is designed to regularly test the “swimmability” of several tidal creeks and hotspots for swimming, kayaking, SUPing, and sailing.

What this means for Charleston Waterkeeper is a detailed set of quality control protocols that govern precisely how we collect, handle, and analyze samples.  What this means for YOU is an easily accessible source for good quality data about the swimmability of your favorite local waterway.  What it means for DHEC is a quality dataset that can be relied upon to determine whether a waterway is impaired or healthy.

The approval of our QAPP is the culmination of over a year’s worth of work:

In June 2012 we developed and published a map, based on existing data, of local waterways impaired for swimming and shellfishing due to high levels of bacteria.  We quickly realized a need existed for more data about bacteria levels in our local waterways and that the public needed easy access to that data.

Over the next several months we worked to expand our organizational capacity to develop and operate a water quality monitoring program that would fill that need.  We set a goal of generating good quality data usable by both DHEC, to make determinations about the health of local waterways, and the public, to decide when and were it’s safe to engage in primary contact recreation.

In September 2012 we conducted a 6 week Pilot Study to determine how to use our time and resources most efficiently, as well as, to test our logistics, equipment, and organizational capacity (check out some sample run photos here, here, here, and here).

Taking what we learned from the Pilot Study, in November 2012 we put our heads down and began to develop our QAPP.  Using guidance from DHEC and the EPA, we outlined the project’s background and goals and detailed the quality control protocols that would govern how we collect, handle, and analyze samples.

In March 2013 we submitted a first draft of our QAPP to DHEC’s Office of Quality Assurance and Bureau of Water for review and comment.  Over the next several months we worked closely with DHEC to refine and strengthen the QAPP.

Last month we conducted a 3 week Readiness Review to practice with the quality control protocols we implemented in the QAPP (check out the sample run photos herehere, and here).  We also officially submitted our QAPP for approval.  On July 3, 2013, DHEC granted approval to begin sampling under the QAPP.

It’s been a long and often challenging process to achieve this goal.  We’re thankful for your support and the guidance of DHEC’s Office of Quality Assurance and the Bureau of Water’s Water Quality Monitoring and Modeling section.  Charleston Waterkeeper is committed to producing a good quality dataset about the swimmability of our local waterways.

Now that the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program is operational (check out the live tweets from this morning’s sample run below), as testing results become available we’ll publish them here and via the Swim Guide mobile app and website.  Be sure to stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter accounts; we promise you won’t miss out when the first results are available.

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