Category Archives: Stormwater Runoff

Water Ball 2012 Highlights from Charleston Waterkeeper on Vimeo.

Two weeks ago, the Charleston community came together to celebrate its fundamental right to clean water.  We are happy to report that Charleston Waterkeeper’s Third Annual Water Ball was our biggest, most successful event yet!

Water Ball 2012 had an estimated record attendance of over 400 people!  (Even an ominous thunderstorm couldn’t keep people away from enjoying their evening dedicated to clean water.)  The evening began under the tents on the riverside terrace as guests were greeted by a glass of LaBubbly champagne accompanied by a classical trio’s performance of Handel’s Water Music.  At 8PM guests entered the aquarium to enjoy food from local restaurants and drinks courtesy of New Belgium Brewing, Palmetto Distributing, and ICEBOX Bartending Services.

Thanks to the incredible support from our sponsors, attendees, volunteers, and friends, Water Ball 2012 raised over $15,000 for Charleston Waterkeeper this year!  These funds will go directly to support our permit watchdog program and our water quality monitoring program.  The goal with both initiatives is to gather baseline data that will allow us to identify water pollution issues and work towards pragmatic solutions.

The Water Machine returned to the Water Ball in a never before seen way.  Representing the need for us all to come together as a community to promote and maintain clean water, guests bought light bulbs throughout the night and showed our collective support of clean water.  Water Machine 3.0 raised $3,900 at Water Ball 2012 , and with the generous support of the Bishop Family Foundation in matching every light bulb bought, we raised in total $7,800 to support the permit watchdog program and our water quality monitoring program!

Our dedication to 100% waste diversion throughout the evening was also a resounding success.  Between the collective efforts of our vendors, guests, volunteers, and staff, Water Ball 2012 produced only one bag of trash, and we were able to divert 280 pounds of recyclable material from the landfill.

We’ve received an overwhelming level of praise from attendees, vendors, sponsors, and local media – with press features ranging from Charleston Magazine to Charleston Art Mag; fashionable Water Ball attendees were even featured in Ayoka Lucas’s Style Snaps.

The Twitpic team was on hand to guarantee that all those in attendance had a chance to channel their inner Waterkeeper in this year’s Twitpic photo booth.  For a full album of all photo booth images, click the photo below.

In addition, Jason A. Zwiker was on scene to capture the evening’s success…


And finally, this year’s event would not have been possible without the amazing group of sponsors, vendors, friends, and volunteers who came together to support the protection of Charleston’s waterways. Check out our full list of supporters here:

We are looking forward to another successful year and cannot wait to see you at Water Ball 2013.

Unbeknownst to many, Colonial Lake is fed by Cummings Creek, which, once a naturally existing creek, now flows beneath downtown streets by way of a concrete culvert.  Last month’s Great Oyster Point Runoff allowed us the opportunity to draw the connection between the quality of our most beloved waterways and the onslaught of stormwater runoff that pours into the hundreds of stormdrains throughout the city every time it rains.

To best appreciate Cummings Creek’s rich history, one must look back to the 1700s when the majority of the west side of the Charleston peninsula was marshland.  One creek on the west side, Cummings Creek, lead from the Ashley River into the heart of the peninsula – a typical tidal creek, full of life and importance.  According to one historical account of the landscape, “the point formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and known as Oyster Point, was low and marshy, and cut up by numerous creeks.”  Oysters were so prevalent throughout the landscape that settlers initially called the peninsula Oyster Point.  This is a sign of two things: the role of tidal creeks and wetlands as filters was in full force and the quality of the water was pristine enough not to overload the oyster population’s ability to filter the surrounding waters.  In other words, the entire ecosystem was in balance.

Eventually, by the late 1700s, Broad Street Canal was dredged, and the adjacent marshland was reserved in trust for the City of Charleston.  In 1870, a pond is created at the headwater of Cummings Creek.  There is much stipulation as to whether the creation of the Rutledge Street Pond was for commercial use or merely for easier access to the Ashley River.  Soon, in the 1880s, construction throughout the Colonial Common resulted in an oyster shell walkway and concrete retaining wall around the pond.  The pond, still tidally influenced by Cummings Creek, provided an ideal playground for children and residents alike.  It was not uncommon for paddle boats to fill the waterfront while anglers tested their luck in the pond and along the feeding creek.  In 1881, the Rutledge Street Pond took the name Colonial Lake in honor of the surrounding property, Colonial Common.

At some point in mid-1900s, the majority of Cummings Creek was captured inside a concrete culvert and hidden from site, under what is known today as Canal Street.  Though the water still rises and falls between the Ashley River and Colonial Lake by way of Cummings Creek, the majority of this action goes unnoticed beneath city streets and Moultrie Playground.

Photographs of Cummings Creek, taken facing westward (1. Cummings Creek at Barre Street; 2. Cummings Creek at Barre and Canal Streets; 3. Cummings Creek at Canal and Gadsden Streets).

Today, Cummings Creek is the only entity standing in the way of Colonial Lake becoming a stagnant cesspool, the unfortunate recipient of polluted runoff from the land (i.e. fertilizers, pesticides, oil, gasoline, animal waste, and more).  It maintains flow between the Ashley River and Colonial Lake and serves as the gateway for all polluted runoff, coming from the nearby community.  The flowing water (rising and falling with every cycle of the tide) of covered Cummings Creek can be seen beneath any stormdrain on Canal Street (a very fascinating site to see!).

Intern Si Wofford proudly raises a water sample after monitoring by the culvert flowing into the open portion of Cummings Creek. The outfall culvert at Cummings Creek is one of Charleston Waterkeeper's water quality monitoring sites.

As we further develop our water quality monitoring program, we will be publishing our results online for public benefit.  In today’s built environment, “tidal creek ecosystems are the primary aquatic link between stormwater runoff from the land and estuaries.  Small tidal creeks begin in upland areas and drain into larger creeks forming a network.  The creeks increase in size until they join a tidal river, sound, bay, or harbor that ultimately connect to the coastal ocean.  The upper regions or headwaters of tidal creeks are ‘first responders’ to stormwater runoff and are an important habitat for evaluating the impacts of coastal development on aquatic ecosystems.” (NOAA – “Tidal Creek Habitats”)

It is undeniable, the amount of stress put on a waterway like Cummings Creek.  Between the decreased amount of once naturally existing creek, the impact of siltation, and the harm from stormwater runoff, Cummings Creek is just one of the many vital waterways working in overdrive throughout the Lowcountry, operating to the best of its ability to maintain as much balance as possible.   A simple visit to the Colonial Common will quickly link, for any observant passerby, the often times ambiguous connection between our built environment and the quality of our waterways.

So remember, the next time you’re strolling down a street and walk over a storm drain, take a look beneath your feet and consider the waterway beneath you, recognizing the eventual path polluted stormwater will soon take to the nearest river or mighty harbor.

In an effort to shed light on the importance and varied characteristics of the many waterways throughout the Lowcountry, Charleston Waterkeeper will begin occasionally profiling a different waterway, shedding light on its history, its current state, and the role it plays in our region’s overall ecosystem.

About a month ago, I was leaving the Harris Teeter parking lot and noticed an unusual sight: water on the road.  This, of course, is not uncommon to see during summer months; however, considering we were in a month-long drought, it was.  I soon realized that the water was coming from a nearby stormdrain and was flooding the street.  Just as expected, the floodwater was in fact harbor water and was slowly creeping its way across the oil-soaked roads of downtown Charleston.  

Soon, the tide would lower, and polluted floodwater would retreat back down the stormdrains and into our waterways.  This display was a clear reminder that what we put (either by accident or by design) on our roads, lawns, parking lots, or rooftops, will eventually find its way into our waterways.

Flooding Pollution from Charleston Waterkeeper on Vimeo.

An unidentified spill covers Ashley Avenue in Downtown Charleston.  Photo by: Andy Lassiter

An unidentified spill covers Ashley Avenue in Downtown Charleston. Photo by: Andy Lassiter

On June 15, 2009 a vehicle heading north on Ashley Avenue spilled what appeared to be hydraulic fluid all over the street.  The spill stretched a distance of three blocks, from the intersection of Bee St. and Ashley Ave. to the intersection of Spring St. and Ashley Ave.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control, Charleston Police Department, Charleston Fire Department and the SC Department of Transportation all responded to the incident.  Eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a truck traveling up Ashley Avenue with a pipe discharging fluid out of the underside of the vehicle.

Hours after the incident, a DHEC official told me that they had not identified a responsible party.  Efforts were taken to decrease the danger to commuters.  Sand was spread over the spill to provide traction; however there were no efforts to remove or clean up the spill.  While officials covered the oil with sand, rain began to fall over downtown.  As rain fell, the oil began to run off into the storm drains on either side of the street (storm drains are connected directly to our waterways).

Charleston Waterkeeper will follow up on this incident to see if any further information is discovered.  This spill raises potential questions about the effectiveness of the methods used by officials when responding to oil spills.  I did not see that all efforts were made to mitigate damage to our waterways.

A 24 hour difference on Fishburne Street

A 24 hour difference on Fishburne Street

Last week, Charleston was hit with some torrential downpours.  Charleston Waterkeeper was out sloshing around through the streets of Charleston, capturing the images of the Lowcountry.  With every rain, contaminants such as oil, gasoline and pesticides are washed into our waterways through the many stormdrains throughout our community.  Stormwater runoff has been identified as one of the leading causes of water contamination throughout the country.

To show the dramatic difference 24 hours can make in the Lowcountry’s streets, I took a picture of the flooded area the day following the rains.