Yearly Archives: 2013

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.

No, we’re not making a movie. But, we are building a program to regularly test the “swimability” of several local creeks and hotspots for activities like swimming, SUPing, sailing, and sometimes just floating.  This week we wrapped up an important step in the development our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program: the Readiness Review. Read about the Readiness Review kick-off here.

The Readiness Review allowed our program staff, field investigators, and laboratory analysts to practice with the quality control and quality assurance protocols we’ve implemented to ensure the program produces high quality data. Check out the photos from our sample runs over at Facebook here, here, and here. We also put together a Storify to capture live tweets from our field investigators. Check that out here.

We are very pleased with the performance of our team and are grateful for those who have helped get us this far. Based on our Readiness Review work, we are confident we can routinely meet the quality control and quality assurance protocols we’ve implemented for the program. What this means for you is an easily accessible source for good quality data about the level of Enterococcus bacteria present in your favorite tidal creek or recreational area.

The Readiness Review also provided us with preliminary look into what to expect from our data.  We collected 36 samples from 12 sites over three weeks.  See where we sampled here:

View Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Sites 2013 in a larger map

Although the dataset is very small a few observations are apparent:

  • Bacteria counts were highest in samples collected within 24 hours of significant rainfall.
  • Bacteria counts in tidal creek samples were higher than samples collected in the Ashley River and Charleston Harbor.

This is an exciting time for us here at Charleston Waterkeeper. Once we have all our “i’s” doted and “t’s” crossed we’ll begin publishing our data for you here and via the Swim Guide mobile app and website.  Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter accounts.  We promise you won’t miss out on the data you need to make an informed decision about when and where to engage in water-based recreational activity.