Category Archives: Monitor

Every week from May through October our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program tests 15 recreational hotspots for fecal pollution. On Wednesday, October 29, our team collected the last batch of water samples for 2014. This is an exciting time for us. We completed the second year of the program and our first full six-month sampling season!

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Over the next couple of months we’ll organize the newest data into our 2014 Recreational Water Quality Scorecard. Our goal is to have the scorecard available for you in early 2015 (see how your favorite waterways fared in our 2013 Recreational Water Quality Scorecard here). In the meantime, here’s a teaser of what we found in 2014:

15 sites monitored weekly
26 weeks of sample collection
390 samples available for collection
376 samples actually collected
96.4% completeness rate
7 samples missed due to Lady C maintenance
7 samples missed due to inclement weather
8 volunteers trained as Field Investigators
1,880 lines of data generated
24,196 MPN/100 mL – Highest sample reading
10 MPN/100 mL – Lowest sample reading
Charleston Harbor 2 (CofC Sailing) – Best overall performance
James Island Creek 2 – Worst overall performance

Keep in mind that these numbers are preliminary. All data produced by the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program adheres to our DHEC-approved Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). This means we still need to vet the complete dataset to make sure it is top quality.

We verify our data on a weekly basis to ensure we’re keeping everything in order, but we do not stop there. At the end of the sampling season, we hand our data and records over to a third party for a line-by-line validation of the dataset. This process reviews our performance based on the guidelines established in our QAPP.

After all of the review cycles, we will submit our 2014 dataset to DHEC. The data will be used by DHEC to formulate the 303(d) list of impaired waters. This is a list of all waterways in the state that do not meet their water quality standards. The list is put out every two years, so our data from 2013 and 2014 will be used in developing the 2016 303(d) list.


We all know the saying “more is better.” That’s certainly not the case with fecal pollution, but it is true of our data. The bacteria we monitor are highly variable in our waterways. The more data we examine, the better insight we’re able to develop about local water quality. In our 2014 scorecard we will examine our datasets from 2013 and 2014. That way you’ll get the best and highest quality information about swimability of your local waterways in our 2014 Recreational Water Quality Scorecard.

We look forward to taking the next couple of months to analyze our data and plan for the 2015 sampling season. As we work to expand the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program, it is important that we stop to express our sincerest gratitude to all that help make this program a reality. We want to give a huge thank you to all of our hard working volunteers! Thank you to our partners: College of Charleston’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences and Charleston City Marina. We also want to give a very special thanks to Charleston Community Sailing for loaning us a boat for the last several sample runs. Finally, thank you to all who continue to support the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program through your generous donations. We could not do this work without your support!

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The Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program completed its 13th week of sampling last week. That means we are halfway through the 2014 monitoring season! It’s a good time to stop and take a look back at what we’ve accomplished so far. Here is (half of) the 2014 sampling season by the numbers:

15 sample sites tested weekly
13 weeks of sample collection
195 samples available for collection
188 samples actually collected
7 missed samples (Lady C maintenance & staffing)
97% completeness rate
940 lines of data generated
24 samples exceeded South Carolina’s standard safe swimming
2046 MPN/100 mL highest sample tested
10 MPN/100 mL lowest sample tested
Charleston Harbor 1 (Melton Peter Demetre Park) – Best overall performance
Shem Creek 3 – Worst overall performance

A few things have changed since our wrap up blog post at the end of the 2013 sampling season. First, we added 3 new monitoring sites this year. One site is in Wappoo Creek and the other two are in Hobcaw Creek. See all of our sampling sites here. Second, we began our monitoring season on May 1 this year and will collect nine more weeks of data than we did in 2013. More data gives you more information about how safe your waterways are for swimming and us a better picture of what is happening in the water.

Finally, overall, bacteria concentrations have been lower this year than last year. This is likely a result of less rainfall: we began monitoring in May, but last year we started in July (July, August, and September are on average the wettest months). Remember stormwater runoff picks up pet and wildlife waste and the pathogens they can harbor and discharges it into our waterways making them unfit for swimming. Please pick up after your cat or dog. Our research with the Upper Inlet Creek Project shows that up to 40% of the bacteria in a suburban tidal creek may be from domestic pets.

Taking a closer look at our 2014 data, we can already start to see some trends. James Island Creek 2 and Shem Creek 3 continue to show high readings just like last year.  But, some other sites that may be impaired are slipping under the weekly radar. That’s because South Carolina uses a two part water quality standard to determine if waters are “swimmable”.

The first part screens for acute water quality issues and holds that if a single sample exceeds 104 MPN/100 mL the site is unsafe for swimming. This is what we use to report results on a weekly basis. The second part screens for chronic water quality issues over time and holds that if the geometric mean of all samples from a month exceeds 35 MPN/100 mL the site is unsafe for swimming. This is what we use to produce our Recreational Water Quality Scorecard. DHEC also uses this standard to determine if a site is impaired for swimming.

What does this all mean? Some sites that appear to be doing well based on single sample readings may still have long term problems. Sites we are keeping a close eye on:

James Island Creek 1
Shem Creek 1 (Shem Creek Park Public Dock)
Shem Creek 2 (Mill St Public Boat Landing)
Ashley River 2 (Brittlebank Park)
Charleston Harbor 3 (Battery Beach)
Hobcaw Creek 2

You can always find the latest water quality conditions on our website and on Swim Guide. Be sure to keep up with the latest information about the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! We regularly post about current water quality conditions to help you stay informed!

Finally, we want to give a big THANK YOU to the folks that help keep this program running smoothly! Many thanks to our dedicated team of Field Investigators, Dr. Vijay M. Vulava – Director of the Hydrochemistry Research Lab in the College of Charleston’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, and City Marina.

On Thursday February 20, we set out in Lady C to observe two active Army Corps dredging projects in the Charleston Harbor area (more about dredging activity here).  A dense fog forced us to alter our float plan, and instead we stayed close to shore patrolling the lower Cooper River, New Market Creek, and Shipyard Creek.


Our waterways have a rich history far beyond the moment in time we patrol.  Oftentimes, as is the case with New Market and Shipyard Creeks, historical land uses in the surrounding watershed impact the water and habitat quality existing today.

In 1772 a powder magazine was built on Shipyard Creek then safely outside the city of Charleston.  Around the same time, Captain Cochran’s Shipyard, one of 14 colonial period shipyards, built vessels to engage in trade with Europe. In the early 1900s the A.E. Tuxbury Lumber Mill operated on the banks of Shipyard Creek. In 1941 Pittsburgh Metallurgical Company constructed a ferrochromium alloy smelting plant on Shipyard Creek that operated until 1998.  The plant polluted the groundwater, sediment, and soil around the creek with nickel, zinc, and chromium.  In 2000 the site was declared an EPA “Superfund” site and scheduled for clean up.  Clean up was completed in 2006 and the EPA considers the site “protective of human health and environment.”  However, ongoing research by DHEC and DNR rates Shipyard Creek’s habitat quality as “fair” due in part to high contaminate levels in the creek’s sediment.

By the early 1820s the Shipyard Creek powder magazine was in disrepair.  A new series of magazines, designed by famed architect Robert Mills, were constructed about 1.5 miles South along New Market Creek.  In 1911 the South Carolina General Assembly permitted the Holston Corporation to divert a portion of New Market Creek and construct a pier for importing coal.  The Holston property was later converted to a landfill and today an estimated 19 feet of trash is buried in the Holston and Romney Street landfills.  Sometime around 1920, the Commissioners of Public Works (now Charleston Water System) constructed an outfall to discharge untreated sewage into New Market Creek. The outfall was used until the Plum Island Treatment Plant (watch the excellent video tour) was completed in the early 1970s.  In the late 1980s local residents alerted DHEC water quality problems in New Market Creek. Investigation by DHEC and the City of Charleston revealed high bacteria levels and several improper connections between sanitary sewers and the City’s stormwater drainage system that discharged to New Market Creek.  After fixing the improper connections bacteria levels declined but were still considered high.

Today New Market and Shipyard creeks are surrounded by high density urban and industrial development. This especially evident in Shipyard Creek, almost no marsh or natural vegetation is present along its western shore. At time we visited, the Kinder Morgan bulk terminal near the mouth of Shipyard Creek was inactive. New Market Creek is still fringed by marsh, however, its entire northern bank is bordered by the Romney Street Landfill. We observed a large amount of trash at the headwaters of small tributary to New Market Creek near the Romney Street recycling convenience center. The trash was exclusively plastic bottles and bags.

The following map highlights what we observed during our patrol (it’s best viewed using the View in Larger Map link). Click the thumb tacks for pictures.

View February 2014 Patrol in a larger map

We reached out to several key community partners regarding the trash observed near the Romney Street convenience center.  We’ll provide an update here as soon as new information is available.  In the meantime, we are planning for our March patrol and will have the float plan finalized soon. Follow the action on Facebook and Twitter.