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

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!

2014-11-12 20.19.23-2

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!

photo 1

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.

2015-11-21 09.56.59

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.

photo 5 (1)

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.

Charleston Waterkeeper is supported by a diverse group of volunteers and members connected by a common thread: a personal connection to Charleston’s local waterways coupled with a strong sense of community service. Their stories are engaging and inspire us every day at Charleston Waterkeeper. Join our community of supporters and together we’ll make our waterways cleaner and our community stronger.

Caroline Irwin

Caroline is a longtime Charleston Waterkeeper Ambassador and supporter. She is the granddaughter of country musician and avid fisherman Arthur Smith (think Guitar Boogie and Dueling Banjos) and first got connected with us in 2012 through her work with Arthur Smith Fishing Tournaments. Caroline carries on the family tradition and can often be found poling through our shallow saltwater marshes chasing redfish with her husband John (Fly Right Charters).

As a sales professional, she enjoys helping with fundraising and events that support our community programs, especially when they connect her love of fly fishing, her friends, and clean water. Caroline sees a lot of opportunity to support her local waterways and offers this encouragement:

“There are so many levels of involvement and I encourage people to find, first, why the water is important to them and then engage with the Waterkeeper to protect and educate.”


Photo Credit: Jason Stemple

James McGavick

If you’ve ever seen our website, the Waterline, social media, Water Quality Scorecard, 2015 By the Numbers, or #WaterWednesday, you’ve seen James’s skill with a camera. James and his wife Corrie are the talent behind MCG Photography. Their love for clean, healthy waterways brought them to the Lowcountry.

James is a waterman and has a very personal connection to our local waterways:

“Water is essential to my health and happiness, and a part of why my wife and I chose Charleston as our home over 12 years ago. From swimming to rowing to stand up paddle board, over the past 46 years I’ve found myself living within a few minutes of a body of water; lakes, rivers, sounds and oceans.”

Several years ago, James reached out wanting to get involved and quickly became an important part of our ability to share our story and work with you. Our water quality testing work is important to James:

“Charleston Waterkeeper monitors the health of our waterways so that we can more easily enjoy the beauty around us. Supporting Charleston Waterkeeper’s efforts by donating time and talent (photography) was an easy decision.”


Photo Credit: Kathy McGovern

Linda Parlo

Linda, a native Swede, recently moved to Charleston with her family (her husband works with a Boeing contractor). In Sweden, Linda worked as a marine biologist with the Kustbevakningen, the Swedish Coast Guard.

We met Linda at the the South Eastern Wildlife Expo in February 2015. Her sense of community service and background made her a great fit as a Field Investigator for our water quality testing work. Linda won “Field Investigator of the Year for 2015” for her habit of always having Swedish coffee to share during morning sample runs (and if she ever offers you “Swedish Mushrooms” don’t worry, they’re just candy). That, and her sampling technique is impeccable.

Linda also volunteers with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and NOAA. Her connection to the water echoes a strong sense of stewardship of our local waterways:

“I support Charleston Waterkeeper because a healthy watershed is vital to me and to all of us and we need to take better care of it. I love being on the water in Charleston, and marine life need clean water too!”


Carl Cole

Carl first volunteered with Charleston Waterkeeper in August 2014 as Field Investigator with our Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program. After a 30 year career as an IT manager, he retired in 2012 and immediately began training as a Master Naturalist with Clemson University. In 2014, Carl was certified as the sixth Statewide Master Naturalist in South Carolina.

Carl volunteers in a variety of naturalist activities but prefers to get either dirty or wet or, sometimes, to set things on fire. Carl’s at his best in the field testing water quality, hauling oyster shells, or conducting prescribed burns in the Audubon’s Francis Beidler Forest and McAlhany Nature Preserve. Serving as a water quality Field Investigator, or in his words a “bottle monkey”, is a natural fit.

For Carl, the importance of clean water is a simple:

“Charleston Waterkeeper and clean water matter because, for the most part, we ARE water.”

photo 3 (3)

Annie O’Brien

Annie first got involved with Charleston Waterkeeper during graduate school in the College of Charleston’s Masters of Public Administration program. We quickly pressed her (and a few classmates) into service to help coordinate volunteers at the Water Ball in 2014. They all excelled and Annie, fortunately for us, stuck around serving first as an intern and then as our outreach coordinator.   

Annie left us to work with the Folly Beach Green Team, but we were delighted when Annie volunteered at Water Ball again is past fall. If you attended, she likely greeted you at the door welcoming you to the event. Annie recently completed her graduate studies and is working for Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach serving those in need on Charleston’s sea islands.

As an avid surfer, clean, healthy water and our quality of life in Charleston go hand-in-hand for Annie:

“I support Charleston Waterkeeper because our waterways are our most critical resource. Without clean water, Charleston wouldn’t be the same!”

surf 3

Lane Kennedy

Lane chose Charleston Waterkeeper and we’re so thankful she did. Lane is a student at the College of Charleston and serves in the Bonner Leader Program. Bonner Leaders are committed to service, leadership, and social justice in the Charleston community through working with local nonprofits. Through the Bonner Leader Program, Lane has committed to working with Charleston Waterkeeper for her college career.

Lane chose Charleston Waterkeeper because she is an avid SCUBA diver and waterway conservation issues are important to her. Lane’s sense of community service on behalf of our local waterways is clear:

“I love being part of Charleston Waterkeeper. Every day I go into work, I know that the work I do is appreciated and important. I get to put my own ideas and creativity into almost everything that I do. I’ve met so many people, I’ve learned so much along the way, and I can’t wait to be a part of whatever Charleston Waterkeeper does next.”


All of us at Charleston Waterkeeper are proud that such a great group of folks have chosen to get involved with us. It’s inspiring to work with a such a diverse and giving group of people dedicated to making their local waterways cleaner and communities stronger. Lets keep the momentum going together. Join our community of supporters!