The Upper Inlet Creek Project

This is a guest blog post by Jillian Phillips.  Jill is a graduate student in the College of Charleston’s Masters of Environmental Studies Program.  Follow Jill on Twitter @jillmarie318.

Charleston Waterkeeper, the College of Charleston’s Masters of Environmental Studies Program, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, and the Town of Mount Pleasant have teamed up to investigate fecal contamination in Upper Inlet Creek.  Upper Inlet Creek is a tidal creek located between Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant above the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  The area is an important habitat for a variety of estuarine life and harbors many commercial and recreational shellfish beds.

DHEC’s water quality data indicate high levels of the fecal indicator bacteria fecal coliform bacteria are present in Upper Inlet Creek.  Accordingly, the creek is listed on South Carolina’s 303(d) list of impaired waterways.  DHEC is scheduled to develop and implement a total maximum daily load, or TMDL for short, for fecal coliform by 2016.  A TMDL is simply a plan to restore the water quality of Upper Inlet Creek.

Meanwhile, DHEC is working to transition fecal indicator bacteria from fecal coliform to Enterococcus.  Enterococcus is considered a better fecal indicator bacteria for marine waters because it survives better than fecal coliform. To help inform this transition, the Upper Inlet Creek Project will quantify bacterial water quality in the creek using both fecal coliform and Enterococcus.

Identifying sources of fecal contamination is often difficult.  Sources include stormwater, human inputs, and wildlife.  To help narrow down the long list of potential sources, the Upper Inlet Creek Project will employ an optical brightener analysis.  Optical brighteners are a component in most laundry detergents and can help differentiate between human and animal sources of fecal contamination.  Both the bacteriological and optical brightener analyses are being conducted at the water quality lab at Mount Pleasant Waterworks.

Our first sampling run took place in early March, aboard the Charleston Waterkeeper’s boat the Lady C.  We’ll sample once per month for an entire year in order to produce a comprehensive dataset.  We hope the data set will be used to make future water quality management decisions regarding Upper Inlet Creek and to ensure the health and quality of Charleston’s waterways.

A big thanks to Jill for posting this overview of the Upper Inlet Creek Project. Charleston Waterkeeper is proud to work with the College of Charleston’s Masters of Environmental Studies Program, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, and the Town of Mount Pleasant on this project.  Stay tuned to Charleston Waterkeeper’s  Twitter (using the hashtag #UIS) and Facebook accounts for updates and progress!

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