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Yesterday was a big day for us here at Charleston Waterkeeper!  We officially kicked off a pilot study for our Water Quality Monitoring Program. The project will regularly monitor bacteria levels in the Harbor and local tidal creeks and publish the results for you.

Projects like this take a lot of time, money, and resources.  A pilot study helps us determine how to use those things most efficiently.  We also designed our pilot study to test our logistics, equipment, sample collection methods, and analysis protocols.  This process will help ensure the quality and reliability of the data we produce.

Our pilot study has three types of monitoring stations: water, land, and tidal creek.  Water stations are on the water in highly used areas accessible only by boat.  Land stations are also on the water, but at popular recreation areas accessible by land.  Tidal creek stations are generally located at the mouth, middle, and headwaters of a tidal creek.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll be rotating through each group of monitoring stations on a weekly basis.

Yesterday morning we sampled our water stations.  The day began early at the Charleston Waterkeeper office where we prepared our sample collection equipment, field notebooks, and chain-of-custody documentation. Our team of field investigators met at the City Marina a short while later.  After quickly preparing the Lady C we hit the water.  We pulled the first sample in the Ashley River near Charleston Community Sailing’s practice site at 9:12 A.M.  A few hours later, we collected the last sample near the northern tip of Morris Island, a popular gathering spot on summer weekends.

Afterwards we motored back to the City Marina and transferred the sample cooler to the lab.  At the lab we processed the samples, prepared them for analysis, and left them to incubate for 24 hours.  We’ll share the preliminary data with you here and on Facebook and Twitter so you can follow our progress.

A pilot study like this is also an important first step in the development of a quality assurance project plan, or QAPP for short.  A QAPP is a document that outlines the data collection, storage, and analysis methods a water quality monitoring project will employ.   A QAPP also provides the quality control protocols required to produce credible data capable of informing you where our local waterways meet standards for safe swimming.

Our pilot study will occur over the next several weeks (keep an eye out for us on the water!).  After the pilot study is complete, we’ll be working to develop our QAPP.  Once that’s done we can start regularly monitoring bacteria levels in our local waterways.  Our goal is to start regular sampling Wednesday May 1, 2013.  Twenty-four hours later we’ll be able to notify you where our tidal creeks and rivers meet standards for safe swimming.  That way you can make an informed decision about where you use our local waterways.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was our Water Quality Monitoring Program.  Good things like this take time, hard work, and support.  A big thank you to all those who’ve helped make this program a reality!

Summer 2008, Hudson River, NY

Cyrus Buffum takes a water sample off the R. Ian Fletcher--Hudson Riverkeeper's patrol boat--during a visit to the Hudson River Valley. Three months before establishing Charleston Waterkeeper, Buffum visited Riverkeeper to learn from the success of the very first Waterkeeper organization.

Summer 2012, Charleston Harbor, SC

Cheryl Carmack, Charleston Waterkeeper's water quality intern, pulls a water quality sample from the Lady C--Charleston Waterkeeper's patrol boat--as part of the organization's water quality monitoring program.