Yearly Archives: 2012

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.



Ever heard of inflow and infiltration?  Here’s a hint: there was a lot of it this past Tuesday.

Infiltration is groundwater that enters the sanitary sewer system through cracks or leaks in sewer pipes or manhole covers.  Inflow, on the other hand, is stormwater that enters sanitary sewers via an illicit connection like a roof drain or down spout.  Either way, as today’s Post and Courier article “Tidal Water Bacteria Levels Monitored After Two Sewage Spills” makes clear, it’s a serious issue for sanitary sewer systems and our right to clean water.

Inflow and infiltration are one cause of sanitary sewer overflows. Other causes include blockages, power outages, and sewer line breaks.  Since we started tracking these events in December 2011 there’s been 23 of them. The smallest are a few hundred gallons while the largest was around 500,000 gallons.  There were three overflows this past Tuesday.

Preventing sanitary sewer overflows is a tough job. The average sanitary sewer system in our area has several hundred miles of gravity sewers, force main, and service laterals, hundreds of pump stations, and a sewage treatment plant or two.  All that infrastructure and equipment has to operate flawlessly 24/7, rain, shine, occasional snow, or hurricane.  Prevention requires nearly constant inspection, maintenance, and upgrades.  And, of course, lots of money.

The next time pay your bill to Charleston Water System, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, or  the North Charleston Sewer District, remember you’re helping prevent sanitary sewer overflows.  You can also encourage your sanitary sewer system provider to invest more resources in inflow and infiltration prevention.  If you see an overflow immediately report it to you sanitary sewer service provider.  Clean water is priceless, but it costs money.  And it’s worth paying for.

What a day.  We’re not sure which was a bigger deluge: the 3+ inches of rainfall we received or the hashtag #chswx on Twitter. Never one to underestimate Charleston’s ability to have a good time, we couldn’t help but notice the flooding downtown provided an irresistible opportunity for fun.

Charleston Waterkeeper is 100% supportive of spontaneous fun.  Especially when it involves celebrating our right to clean water.  But there’s an important point here not to be missed.  It’s CLEAN water that’s worth celebrating, not the nasty stuff that floods our streets.

The rain that falls onto the urban and suburban areas of our watershed collects a wide range of pollutants as it floods our streets, pools in parking lots, and overflows our storm drains.  In fact, there’s a name for it: polluted runoff. And it drains right to our tidal creeks and rivers without any treatment.

The stuff is terrible.  It’s potentially harmful to human health. Research shows in major urban areas the median fecal coliform bacteria level in runoff was 21,000 cfu/100 milliliters.  That’s more than 50 times the level considered safe for swimming.

It puts our local shellfishermen out of business for days after a major rainfall. DHEC automatically closes all open shellfish beds after 4 inches of rain in a 24 hour period because the bacteria in runoff contaminates shellfish beds.  Beds are only reopened after testing indicates the shellfish are safe to eat.

It impairs the health of our small tidal creeks and rivers. Research shows that 75% of the rain that falls on an urban watershed enters local creeks and streams (it’s 20% or less in a forested watershed).  This acute discharge of polluted water reduces the abundance of aquatic species like red drum and brown shrimp.  And, sadly, over time, our own use of our tidal creeks and rivers is reduced as well.

Unfortunately there’s no bad guy to blame for this one.  It’s all of us.  But just the same, you can help keep pollutants out of stormwater. Here’s how.  Take steps to allow rain water to infiltrate the ground on your property with vegetated open spaces, buffers, and swales.  Limit the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  If you do use them follow the instructions on the label.  Pick up and dispose of pet waste in the toilet.  Encourage new development in your community to use Low Impact Development principles.

The next time it rains, remember it’s not just the quantity of stormwater that affects our lives it’s also the quality.

The organizers of the Charleston Pub Crawl have selected Charleston Waterkeeper as their benefitting charity for the second year in a row. We’re incredibly humbled by the support and are looking forward to another successful year. In addition, our friends at SweetWater Brewing Company have come on board as the headline sponsor once again.

For full details about this month’s pub crawl, visit the website here and don’t forget to use promo code “WATERKEEPER” for a 10% discount (this will be donated back to Charleston Waterkeeper!).

Wondering how Charleston Waterkeeper will benefit from the Charleston Pub Crawl? Here’s what will be donated to Charleston Waterkeeper:

  • 10% of funds raised through ticket sales
  • 100% of funds raised through donation buckets at every venue (day of)
  • 100% of funds raised through the sale of “purchased” cups of tap water at every venue (day of)

Did you spot our water jugs along King Street during last weekend’s 2nd Sunday? Remember each one was labeled with a fact. Be thinking of them because a few will be used in the scavenger hunt this weekend!

Also, are you looking to be a volunteer the day of the pub crawl? It isn’t too late to sign up, and we would love your help. The hours of volunteering will be from 12:30PM – 8PM. Each volunteer must be 21 or older. For more information, contact Natalie Taylor.

Way to go Charleston!  A number of you spotted Charleston Waterkeeper out on the water yesterday morning in the Lady C.  We thought you might be wondering what we were up to.  It’s not often we get to use words like reconnaissance and mission, but that’s exactly what Cyrus and Andrew were doing in the Charleston Harbor yesterday.

A while back we asked you to help us test our local waterways for fecal pollution.  You responded.  A little later we asked you to show us where you use our local waterways for activities like swimming and standup paddleboarding.  You responded again.

We promised to test those areas for fecal pollution and publish the results so you could make an informed decision about where you get wet.  To do that we’re building a water quality monitoring program.  One of the first steps is sample site reconnaissance.  That’s were we get out on the water and inspect areas you identified as potential sample sites.

A reconnaissance mission like yesterday helps us determine the logistics of sampling a particular area.  Cyrus and Andrew made a visual inspection of potential sample sites, logged GPS coordinates, determined float time between sites, and practiced with bacteria sampling and chain of custody protocols.  Check out photo gallery of our work on our Facebook page.

We are pleased to be moving forward with our water quality monitoring work.    Stay tuned, we’ll update our progress here and on Facebook and Twitter.  Also, keep an eye out in your local tidal creek.  That’s where we’re headed for our next reconnaissance mission.