Category Archives: Charleston Waterkeeper

For the past two and a half years, we’ve worked effortlessly in an attempt to pursue our mission: to improve the quality of Charleston’s waterways.  Through it all, we’ve realized that there are fundamental steps that must be taken in order to adequately do this.  Because of the dynamic nature of issues plaguing the quality of our waterways, there must be multiple approaches by which these threats are addressed.  From the public’s awareness to the enforcement of laws that protect our natural resources, there are many dimensions that must all be addressed equally.

We’ve noted that everything we do fits into one of three categories: celebration, education, and advocacy.  Charleston Waterkeeper celebrates our right to clean water by encouraging the responsible use of our waterways.  We educate the public on the issues impacting our waterways, the rights we have to clean water, the laws that protect these rights, and the responsibilities each of us has to protect this fundamental resource.  And finally, Charleston Waterkeeper serves as the voice of Charleston’s waterways – advocating for their protecting through the use of science and the law.

Clean water can only be protected by the hands of an entire community.  Join us in this pursuit… for clean water and strong communities.

Noelle London sits in DHEC’s offices after setting up a temporary Charleston Waterkeeper control center during the organization’s permit review process (complete with dualing computers, a portable scanner, and permits from industrial polluters).

Charleston Waterkeeper has recently undertaken the ambitious goal of reviewing every industrial polluter throughout the Lowcountry. How many polluters are we talking?  Well, just in the immediate Charleston Harbor watershed, there are over 200 permitted polluters.  To review each of these permits is undoubtedly a large goal – but a necessary one.  With the help of our policy intern, Noelle London, we’ve begun the process and are well underway.  Through it all, we hope to discover which polluters are in compliance with the law and which polluters are violating the Clean Water Act – the very law that protects our right to clean water.

Noelle and Cyrus spent the day reviewing discharge records and will be compiling their findings along the way.

Posted via email from Charleston Waterkeeper’s posterous

As we move forward and set our eyes on what’s in store for 2011, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on all that which we’ve accomplished in 2010.  Without your continued support and dedication though, none of this would have been possible.  Thanks you!  [Click the links below to read more detail about each accomplishment.]

In 2010 we…


We partnered with some great companies, organizations, individuals, and brands in 2010 to help spread awareness about water issues throughout Charleston.  With support from these partners, we have been able to better protect the public’s right to clean water.  We feel especially lucky to have partnered with Alexandra Cousteau and National Geographic’s Blue Legacy Expedition, Band of Horses, SC Aquarium, Twitpay & RT2Give, warmwinds software, Ted’s Butcherblock, and so many more!


When an unforeseen issue threatens a community’s well-being and the public’s right to clean water, it is important for all of us to rally in support to see that our rights and our natural resources are protected.  In 2010 we organized and took part in over a dozen beach cleanups, removing thousands of pieces of debris and trash from our coastline.  Some of these cleanups included the annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep, a 5th of July cleanup of Morris Island, and cleanups with Chucktown Squash,the College of Charleston’s SAE fraternity, and other enthusiastic groups of volunteers.

In addition, 2010 was the year we all witnessed perhaps the most devastating man-made environmental disaster of our nation’s history.  In the days following the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig, founder Cyrus Buffum created the Save Our Gulf campaign.  With help from Giant Hawk Media, the Save Our Gulf website became the central clearinghouse for all news, photos, updates, videos, and stories collected by the Gulf Waterkeepers on the front lines.  Teva and Band of Horses also helped out with a PSA made in support of the campaign.


In order to protect the public’s right to clean water, we believe it’s necessary to celebrate our right to clean water while also educating one another on the rights we have and the issues infringing on these rights.  As a result, we set out to plan an annual event that would serve as a platform to do just that!  In 2010 we hosted the very first Water Ball – an incredibly successful event that helped raise awareness about our efforts as an organization.  In addition, we teamed up with Alexandra Cousteau to host a Water Village on the College of Charleston, and began our monthly happy hours at FISH Restaurant.


Since our establishment, Charleston Waterkeeper has been fortunate to have received an abundant amount of press and praise for our efforts.  We’re incredibly proud of all the support shown by the media in 2010!  We’re especially excited by the following recognitions and features: College of Charleston Magazine’s “In Deep: A Love Story Written in Water” (PDF version), founder Cyrus Buffum’s recognition as a finalist of GQ’s Better Men Better World Search, and the NPR/SCETV interview featured on Your Day.


To protect our right to clean water, we must first be aware of our right, know the issues threatening this right, and understand how we can each play a role in assuring that this right is protected.  For this reason, we put a lot of time and energy during 2010 into our education and outreach activities.  To get a sense of some of the educational activities we took part in, here are just a few… Charleston Peace One Day, presentation at REDUX’s Double Vision Lecture Series, Summer Splash at the Sullivan’s Island Children’s Library, visits to over 6 local schools (ranging in grades from 1st to high school), lectured and set up over 12 booths and/or tables throughout the year at local festivals, markets, and community events.  We even built a “Water Machine” to show the influence each of you can have in defending our waterways from pollution.


As an organization driven by data, it’s important for us to get our hands dirty to uncover the facts behind an issue in order to address the root cause.  2010 was an exciting year in terms of our research projects.  For example, we launched and completed our copper study, began our NPDES review (an audit of every industrial polluter throughout the Lowcountry), partnered with the aquarium to begin our water quality monitoring program, and continued our regular patrols throughout Charleston’s waterways.  We’re looking forward to expanding our research and testing abilities in 2011.


We’re so incredibly proud to be a part of the Waterkeeper Alliance.  We join nearly 200 Waterkeeper programs across 6 continents in the fight for clean water and strong communities.  While at the annual Waterkeeper Alliance conference in La Paz, Mexico this year, we tapped into the wisdom and experience of other Waterkeepers to learn more about important issues such as marine debris, industrial pollution, stormwater runoff, Clean Water Act violations, and more.

We’re always eager to grow our technological capabilities, and in 2010, we did just that.  Through a partnership with warmwinds software, we launched our Waterkeeper iPhone app, giving the public one more tool to assure that our waterways are protected.

Internally, we began establishing our founding board of directors, grew our membership to over 250 supporters, added dozens of volunteer opportunities, hosted two interns from the College of Charleston, grew our monthly e-newsletter to reach over 1,500 people, and maintained a list of over 35 active and eager volunteers.

We’re already well underway with our plans for 2011 and look forward to your continued support and involvement!  Thanks again for making 2010 an amazing year!

Noelle atop Mount Olympus, right outside Salt Lake City.

As we’ve grown as an organization, we’ve needed more and more hands involved with our day-to-day operations in order to keep moving in the right direction.  One way we’ve been able to accomplish this over the past two years has been through the help and involvement from amazing interns and volunteers!  Whether they be from the College of Charleston or the law school, these eager students have gotten down and dirty (literally) to help Charleston Waterkeeper in our mission to protect the public’s right to clean water.

For this reason, we’d like to introduce you to our most recent intern, Noelle London.  Noelle has been serving as our policy intern for the past few months and will continue to do so until she packs up and leaves the United States – bound for Nicaragua for two years and three months.  Noelle has been accepted into the Peace Corps as a Business Advisor and Educator and hopes to apply much of her experience with social and environmental policy to her time in Central America.

To introduce you to both Noelle and the project she’s been working on, we’ve compiled a little interview to give you guys an inside look at what happens within the organization on a day to day basis…  Enjoy!

Charleston Waterkeeper:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Noelle London: I am a recent graduate from the College of Charleston with a degree in Economics and a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and I grew up in Clemson, South Carolina. Growing up I watched both of my parents involve themselves in the community and social policy, and I was always searching for a path that would allow me to give back. On a trip to the Amazon about two years ago, I saw a sign in a village square stating, “Sin Agua, No Hay Democracia!” (Without Water, There Is No Democracy!). It was then I began to understand the importance of water in development, and since then, this saying has become my mantra.

CW:  How’d you hear about Charleston Waterkeeper?  What made you want to get involved?
NL: You guys had a great poster up in Ted’s Butcherblock advertising the Water Ball. I donated my handmade jewelry to the silent auction and volunteered at the event. After attending the Water Ball, I could tell there was a tremendous amount of energy behind the organization, and I wanted to be more involved.

CW:  Tell us a little bit about the project you’ve been working on with Charleston Waterkeeper.  It has something to do with industrial polluters in and around the Lowcountry, right?
NL: I’ll start with a little bit of background information. In 1972, environmental legislation was passed through Congress that came to be known as the Clean Water Act. In this legislation, today’s system of permitting wastewater discharges  known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Program was developed. This legislation prohibits the discharge of pollutants directly into waterways without a permit. Because individual homes are usually connected to a municipal system, permits are issued to industrial, municipal and other facilities. Under the Act, on a monthly basis, NPDES permit holders are required to report their discharges to SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC).

We are starting a project to audit all NPDES permit holders within the entire Charleston Harbor Watershed (over 200 permits!). Working with SCDHEC, we have identified current permit holders and soon will begin a physical review of the permits. In this audit, we will be examining reporting forms (called Discharge Monitoring Reports or DMRs) for the past five years. We will study excessive amounts of effluent, where there have been no attempts to remedy the situation. We also want to know more about those permit holders that have adopted responsible practices, and we plan to share their model practices with other industries. As an advocate for water law, it is important that Charleston Waterkeeper shed light on compliance issues under the parameters of the Clean Water Act and assure our community that important health and environmental laws are enforced, thus protecting our right to clean water.

CW:  How will this research/work be used to help protect the public’s right to clean water?
NL: Public Participation is an important component of the Clean Water Act and the NPDES permitting process. The re-issuance of a permit is not guaranteed; so, if a particular permit is controversial, the permit is open for public comment. Charleston Waterkeeper is a citizen-based movement, and we are aiming to provide you, as concerned citizens, access to information and awareness pertaining to industrial polluters in the local area. Following the conclusions and findings of this project, Charleston Waterkeeper will serve as a catalyst to engage the community and restore the NPDES permit process back to the public.

CW:  In having worked with the organization for several months, what’s one thing you’ve discovered/learned/observed about Charleston Waterkeeper that the average Joe might not know about…?
NL: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with an organization of people so energetic and dedicated to a critically important cause. One thing I’ve learned? Among other things, Cyrus should be a marketing representative for Twitter. He’s got a great spiel and even I am almost convinced to start up an account. [NOTE: As of January 18, 2010, Noelle has yet to sign up for Twitter.]

We wish Noelle the best of luck in her adventures with the Peace Corps and are forever grateful for the amount of help she’s been over the past several months!  Thanks, Noelle; keep up the great work!

For the past 30 days, men across our big blue planet have been growing mustaches in support of men’s health.  The combination of “mustache” and “November” has yielded a powerful movement known as Movember.  The Movember Foundation has been established to spearhead this (what some might call, creepy) movement.  According to Movember’s website,

Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache… The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men.  Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days.

Thirty days later and our Waterkeeper logo has managed to grow quite the ‘stache!  Don’t worry though, being December 1st, it’s time to chop it off!

However, before doing so, since the idea of Movember is designed to shed light on men’s health issues, we at Charleston Waterkeeper wanted to take this opportunity to discuss one specific pollutant that impacts the health and lives of many (both human and aquatic) – an issue that is directly related to our world’s water.

Endocrine disruptors are substances that “interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of natural hormones in the body that are responsible for the maintenance of homeostasis (normal cell metabolism), reproduction, development, and/or behavior.”  Basically, these nasty compounds have the ability to mess with the male/female delineation in many species.

So, what are some examples of endocrine disruptors?  Well, to name a few, they include chemicals and pollutants like the following: DDT, PCBs, flame retardants, BPA (a popular chemical found in plastic bottles), and many more.  For a complete list, click here.

Most recently, BPA has received much attention because of studies that “have found that laboratory animals exposed to low levels of it have elevated rates diabetes, mammary and prostate cancers, decreased sperm count, reproductive problems, early puberty, obesity, and neurological problems.”

How do we consume such compounds?  Well, there are a number of ways…  First, if the chemicals are present in our immediate environment (i.e. water bottles from which we drink, pots/pans from which we eat, etc.), we can easily digest them.  However, there are certainly less direct ways (but equally as dangerous) by which we gain exposure.

Particularly in regards to our waterways, many known endocrine disruptors wash down our drains every day – chemicals and drugs filtered through our bodies, pills flushed through toilets, and compounds that eventually make their way into our waterways.  The majority of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) do not filter or treat pharmaceuticals, toxic chemicals, and other known endocrine disruptors.  As a result, these materials are flushed directly into our nation’s waterways and become a part of the aquatic ecosystems.

The impact of these chemicals in our waterways is huge.  For example, populations of male bass have been found carrying eggs (a hormonal change caused by endocrine disruptors), while the rate of reproduction in other species has decreased significantly.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has greater examples of the impacts of endocrine disruptors on their “Environmental Contaminants Program” website.

So in the spirit of Movember, let’s take a minute to think about how we can impact men’s health (both in man and in fish) for the better.  Here are a few simple steps we can all take to reduce the risk of endocrine disruptors:

  • When drinking tap water, use an approved reusable bottle (i.e. steel, etc.)
  • When drinking bottled water, use the bottle sparingly (do not freeze, leave in sun, etc.), and make sure to recycle
  • Do not flush pills down the drain; instead properly dispose of them (check out SC DHEC’s “Proper Disiposal of Unwanted Medicine” fact sheet for detailed instructions)
  • Next Movember, grow a mustache (if you can) and/or support the organizations and researchers working to identify solutions to men’s health issues