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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.