Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been up to lately.

Every Wednesday, from May through October, we test bacteria levels at 15 hotspots for water-based recreational activity. That way, you know when and where it’s safe to swim, paddle, kayak, and sail. Sign up today to receive weekly water quality updates in your inbox so you have easy access to all the latest information: get water quality updates.

Stand up for your favorite local waterways during Lowcountry Giving Day. Make a donation at:

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Stand up for your favorite local waterways during Lowcountry Giving Day. Make a donation at:

Here in the Lowcountry, the salt marsh is often the first sign of the changing seasons. As the water and air warm during Spring, last year’s gray-brown Spartina gives way to a flush of new growth rising from the pluff mud in a cycle of yearly renewal. In just a few weeks, last year’s growth will decay, providing essential nutrients for the marsh ecosystem, and the new Spartina will rise in a spectacular, showy pop of vibrant green color.

Hobcaw Creek

Spring’s warmer air and water also bring a renewed flush of swimmers, paddlers, kayakers, and sailors enjoying our tidal creeks and marshes. Here at Charleston Waterkeeper, that means we’re hard at work preparing to launch our weekly water testing program for the season. Testing kicks off next week and this year, you can receive weekly water quality alerts sent directly to you: sign up here.

Our tidal creeks, rivers, and marsh never cease to amaze. Be sure to follow along as we post updates from the water on Instagram and Twitter every Wednesday.

Local scientists have also studied these dynamic systems as “sentinel” habitats that signal the health our entire estuary. What they’ve found is sobering — when only 10-20% of the land around a tidal creek is developed, polluted stormwater causes it’s health to decline. That means our suburban and urban tidal creeks like Shem Creek and James Island Creek aren’t as healthy as they might look, and they need our help.


Shem Creek, for example, fails to meet its water quality standard for safe swimming. We also uncovered that DHEC doesn’t provide Shem Creek with the strongest water quality standard for uses like swimming and paddling. That’s why we petitioned DHEC to upgrade Shem Creek’s water quality standard to better protect the public’s health and force a quicker clean up. Read more about the work from Bo Peterson in the Post and Courier:

Sullied Shem Creek not safe to swim; state challenged to force clean up.

It’s tough when our testing work reveals the special places we all love aren’t healthy. Especially, popular spots like Shem Creek and James Island Creek. But, as a community, we have to confront these problems to make them better. That’s why it’s inspiring when folks like James Island Creek locals Mary Edna Fraser and John Sperry stand up and become stewards for their special creek. The Post and Courier’s Bo Peterson tells James Island Creek’s story here:

Cleaning the creeks; pollution problems likely up to residents to fix.

Solutions won’t come quick or be easy. Combating polluted stormwater and renewing the health or urban and suburban tidal creeks is a community effort. It works best when we’re all engaged and working together as waterway stewards. As your Waterkeeper, we promise to remain vigilant and work diligently to ensure all your waterways are clean and healthy for fishing and swimming.

Water Quality Scorecard

Our 3rd annual Recreational Water Quality Scorecard is now available online! If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to check it out. Pitch in now to help make 2016 testing season a success: support water quality testing.

The Scorecard measures the “swimmability” of 15 sites we regularly test for levels of enterococci bacteria, a type of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). FIB indicate the presence of fecal contamination, which may contain pathogens that pose a health risk. Translation: swimming in water that contains high levels of FIB can make you sick!


Bacteria levels are tested weekly during the summer months to let you know when and where the water is safe for swimming. To stay up-to-date with the latest data, sign up to receive our weekly water quality updates. 2016 testing starts on Wednesday, May 4.

How’s the Water?

Our annual Scorecard provides you with a comprehensive review of all data collected from our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program. During the sampling season, we tell you when and where it is safe to swim on a weekly basis. During the off season, we take a big picture look at our sites and assess overall recreational water quality. That way, you know how your favorite waterway is doing, both short-term and long-term.


Unfortunately, many local waterways do not meet state water quality standards for safe swimming due to high levels of enterococci bacteria. Swimmability can vary from week to week, but long-term trends reveal many of our waterways are unhealthy for swimming.

So who’s the culprit? The Scorecard outlines several potential sources of fecal bacteria, and they’re not exactly what you might think. Bacteria sources include:

scorecard sources

Fecal contamination is tricky because there’s often more than one source to blame. Our homes, yards, and pets can all potentially bear some responsibility. While many small sources can add up to a big problem, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a positive impact.

Take Action!

Our Scorecard also provides you with actions you can take to be a good steward of your local waterway. These include:


Bacteria contamination starts with our actions on land, and therefore, we must all work together to tackle the problem.

Consider polluted flood water, or stormwater – it’s a major contributing source because it carries pollutants directly into our rivers, creeks, and harbor. Those pollutants had to start somewhere before they were picked up by stormwater. Perhaps your own backyard?

Research conducted by a former Charleston Waterkeeper graduate student showed that fecal bacteria in our creeks could be reduced by 40% if everyone in Charleston picked up after their pets. Collective individual action can make a HUGE impact, so do your duty!

Get Engaged!

Most importantly, use the Scorecard to get engaged! It contains all the necessary tools to help you speak up and advocate for your local waterway. DHEC is responsible for determining which waterways are healthy and for working with communities to restore unhealthy waterways. Your feedback plays a big role in prioritizing DHEC’s restoration efforts. Contact DHEC, tell them you saw Charleston Waterkeeper’s 2015 Scorecard and are concerned about the health of your favorite waterway for swimming, SUPing, or kayaking. They listen!

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Get involved locally as well — while the scorecard outlines individual actions, don’t stop there. Invite Charleston Waterkeeper to talk with your community group about water quality and stewardship. Reach out to your city or municipality and express your concerns about local water quality. Be active and be engaged in the process — attend public hearings, write to your representatives, provide feedback during community planning efforts.

Your Waterkeeper

At the end of each monitoring season, we submit all of our data to DHEC. We then work to ensure our unhealthy waterways are prioritized for restoration efforts. We also work to ensure all waterways are protected by the right water quality standards. For example, Shem Creek is not afforded the most protective water quality standard for swimming and water based recreation. As a result, it hasn’t been correctly identified as unhealthy and prioritized for restoration. On Monday March 28 we petitioned DHEC to change that. Years of funding cuts have hampered DHEC’s testing and restoration work. Our monitoring work and local knowledge fills that gap and provides a higher level of protection for your favorite waterways.

IMG_2850Join Us!

Working together as a community for clean, healthy water is an achievable goal. We saw the impact local action can make when our coastal communities stood up together against offshore drilling in the Atlantic. Join Charleston Waterkeeper as member today and stand with us for clean, healthy waterways.

Saloon Session with Will Vesely

Will is involved with Charleston Waterkeeper in many different ways, from outreach to lab work. He first learned about our work while doing research in Dr. Vulava’s lab at the College of Charleston. He then got involved with the College of Charleston Waterkeeper Club, eventually taking on the role of President. Will has done a great deal to help our organization so we are very excited to feature him in the Winter 2016 Valiant Volunteer! We hope you enjoy learning more about another one of our outstanding volunteers!

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Tell us a little about your background.

I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia and I am a senior at the College of Charleston majoring in Environmental Geology with a minor in Environmental Studies. I would call myself an environmentalist that is looking to make a major difference to positively change our relationship with nature. I am currently researching water quality, and I previously studied emerging contaminants in the environment. My research interests include examination of water quality impacts due to urbanization and the fate of emerging contaminants. I am the current president of the CofC Waterkeeper Club and have been working hard to build a strong foundation for the club. I think with the foundation that has been laid, the club will take the campus by storm in the coming semesters. In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with my girlfriend Emily and my dog Cal. I also like going on long runs and nature hikes. I enjoy being outside as much as possible and in particular being on the waterways. My local waterway is the Chattahoochee River which flows through metro Atlanta.

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What is your connection to the water?

I grew up in Atlanta near the Chattahoochee River and was at the river every chance I got. Growing up near a major urban waterway, I got to see first-hand the visible impact of pollution. I remember walking my dog at the river when I was in 8th grade and seeing entire sections of the Chattahoochee entirely trashed. When it rains in Atlanta, the river becomes unsafe for swimming due to high E. coli levels. Seeing this pollution got me motivated from a young age to make a difference in protecting waterways. I saw the club as a perfect way for me to protect local waterways and be able to educate a college campus about the importance of clean waterways. The club has been such a great opportunity for me personally to prepare for a career in protecting and serving the environment, as well as a great vehicle for me to expand my leadership and communication skills.

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Tell us more about your research.

I am currently completing my Bachelor’s Essay on dissolved organic carbon dynamics. In particular, I am looking at the impact of urbanization on the chemical characteristics of dissolved organic carbon in coastal South Carolina estuaries. I got involved with research 2 years ago during a summer internship in Dr. Vijay Vulava’s geochemistry lab studying the fate and transport of pharmaceutical and personal care products in natural soils. Then I was able to get a Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) grant from the College of Charleston this past summer studying dissolved organic carbon. My future plans are to go to graduate school and continue doing research looking at fate and transport of emerging contaminants. My career goal is to make a tremendous impact collaborating the important science with major land-use decisions. I hope to leave the environment in a better place than when I got here and with a message that people can draw from for years to come.


What is your favorite part of volunteering?

I really enjoy being able to get out in the community and educate people about the importance of good water quality in their lives. Its a great feeling connecting with the public and the communities about the Waterkeeper’s message. The thing that gets me most excited are the clean-ups. This is because you get to see your impact on a particular area immediately, plus it is so important to keep waterways trash-free. The club has adopted Wappoo Cut Boat Landing and it has been essential to our expansion. Clean-ups are also a great way to get children excited about protecting the environment from a young age.

Anything else you would like to share?

I think it’s important to remember for the future of the planet and the environment that hope is not lost. It is an essential for more and more people to light a candle rather than accept the darkness.