Fecal pollution impacts our right to swim, kayak, and standup paddleboard without fear of getting sick. Its presence means that pathogens, disease causing microorganisms, may also be present. Unfortunately, testing for pathogens is so time consuming and expensive it’s not practical to test for their presence.
The presence of fecal pollution is identified by testing for “indicator bacteria” that are known to be present in fecal waste. The best indicator bacteria for determining the risk of illness from pathogens is enterococcus. DHEC runs two testing programs for enterococcus bacteria in our local waterways. One for shellfish beds and another for local beaches.
The Shellfish Program monitors local shellfish beds for the presence of enterococcus bacteria. If enterococcus are present above Federal and State standards, DHEC prohibits shellfish harvesting. All shellfish beds are automatically closed upon rainfall of 4.0 inches or more in a 24 hour period. Learn More Here: [DHEC Shellfish Program]
The Beach Monitoring Program tests local beaches for enterococcus. When enterococcus levels exceed Federal and State standards, DHEC issues a “swim advisory.” A swim advisory means that swimming, surfing, and other similar activities may pose a health risk. [Swim Guide]
These testing programs provide important and useful information. But, a significant gap exists. Activities like swimming, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding do not occur only at the beach. Many of our tidal creeks and rivers are heavily used for these activities. However, nobody is testing enterococcus levels in these areas. Charleston Waterkeeper is changing that. [Learn More]