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Dirty nurdles, sewer geysers, and water quality standards

Welcome to your September 2019 Keeper’s Report! It’s been a busy several months here Charleston Waterkeeper and we’ve got a lot share. This month’s report links together a sewer geyser on James Island, little plastic pellets called nurdles on Sullivan’s Island, a better set of water quality standards for Shem Creek!

When is 5x More of a Bad Thing Good?

When it’s an outdated DHEC water quality standard meant to protect your health. Since the 1980s, DHEC has used two standards for recreational water quality. One allowed 5x more bacteria than the other. That’s just not right. Nobody should have to risk getting sick just to jump off a dock in Cove, swim at No-name Beach in harbor, or paddle in Clark Sound because of weak, outdated water quality standards.

Back in June, represented by our friends at the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, we petitioned DHEC to eliminate the weaker rule and update their standard. DHEC agreed. As the Post and Courier reports: “New rules for polluted Shem Creek?” Yes, please. Thank you.

A win for clean water and public health: we’re looking forward to seeing the upgraded water quality standard before the end of the year.

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James Island’s Old Faithful

Last month a sewer line break sent a raw sewage geyser into the marsh surrounding James Island Creek. All told, 48,000 gallons shot into the creek. But, as Channel 2 NEWS reports, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 20 million gallons of sewage that spilled into local waterways and marshes since 2016.

Sewage authorities must do better–too often these spills are written off to severe weather and flooding. More importantly, DHEC has to get serious about enforcement. Since 2016 our review found only 5 sewer spill enforcement actions statewide with only one of those in Charleston County. That’s not good enough.

Sliver Lining: Charleston Water System and the James Island PSD are now part of the effort to clean up James Island Creek. We’ll make sure poop geysers a lot less regular than Old Faithful.

Nurdle Beach?

Nurdle watch. We need your help documenting pollution from plastic nurdles in our waterways after the big spill in July. Have you seen nurdles like those below in your creeks, rivers, or marshes? On your favorite beaches? Somebody’s been Misbehavin . . .

More from:

ABC News 4: DHEC says Frontier Logistics company behind plastic pellets on local beaches

Post and Courier Editorial Board: Hold Sullivan’s Island plastic ‘nurdle’ polluter accountable

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Creek Watchers

Back in 2017 we quietly launched a project to engage citizens in monitoring their local tidal creeks and rivers. DHEC has yet to offer its Adopt-A-Stream program for coastal waterways. So we took action and built a program for you. Every month our Creek Watchers test water quality, count dolphin sitings, and document invasive algae species at 11 different sites. To date, they’ve tested more than 450 samples! All that data in information helps us keep an eye on the health of your waterways.

In Their Words:

Katherine: I love being a Creek Watcher because we feel like we are contributing to the mission to keep our waterways safe for our community and the animals that live in them.

Tony: I love being a Creek Watcher because I am doing real-time science as part of an organization looking out for the health and well-being of these magical marshlands that make up the cradle of the sea.

Mike on testing water quality with his wife JoAnne: I love being a Creek Watcher because now I know that our marriage can survive the stress and strain of the dissolved oxygen test.

Thank you Creek Watchers!

Read More: Your Local Citizen-Scientists: Creek Watchers

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When you’re out and about, find us at:

September 21: help make your creeks and marshes cleaner and healthier at Beach Sweep/River Sweep

October 5: get all your Charleston Waterkeeper gear and meet the team at the Charleston Farmers Market

October 10: meet the whole Waterkeeper team at Drink for the CAWS

October 26: like clean drinking water? Help us clean up the Goose Creek Reservoir

November 9: Revel on the River is back! Join us at Freehouse Brewery for some great music, food, and beer and help celebrate our 10 year anniversary serving as your Charleston Waterkeeper.

See y’all on the water soon! Don’t forget to follow all the action on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.